“Assume the simple position” (Occam’s Razor)

BQ

I have been doing this long enough and with enough frequency that if one read a post a day it would take a year to finish the blog. I heartily encourage this activity, but for readers lacking the time or ambition, I can sum up the blog’s contents as being an endorsement of Occam’s Razor. This is the notion that, all other things being equal, the solution that makes the fewest assumptions is usually the correct one. Closely related to the Razor is the notion of the burden of proof, which states that the person making an assertion is required to provide evidence for it and not merely challenge listeners to disprove it.

Carl Sagan famously noted that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Suppose I amble into work late and my co-workers wonder why. One postulates that I may have encountered the road construction they had. They were there, it happened to them, they know I take the same route, so that seems a likely reason. But another wonders if I was delayed by persons on horseback engaged in a medieval war reenactment, which had taken place over the weekend on a family farm. A third co-worker speculates that I may have slipped into a wormhole where aliens detained me to obtain skin and blood samples before releasing me back onto my usual route.

The first choice requires just one assumption, that I had encountered the same construction as my co-worker had. From there, the number of assumptions increase. The equestrian excuse would require that the reenactment went beyond the scheduled date and took place in a locale other than its designated point. The final explanation would require assuming the existence in Moline of both wormholes and aliens and assume I had encountered both on my commute.

Anyone espousing the third option would have the highest difficulty level since it employs the most assumptions to reach its conclusions. Still, such attempts to shift the burden of proof and bypass Occam’s Razor happen all the time.

O.J. Simpson’s defense team attempted to shift the burden to the prosecution by trying to make it prove that Nicole wasn’t killed by Colombian drug dealers who mistook her for Faye Resnick. Judge Lance Ito disallowed this line of reasoning, owing to a total lack of evidence. “Prove it wasn’t drug dealers” is not a valid defense argument and such reasoning is not critical thinking.

While the number of assumptions is important, so too are the quality of those assumptions. The Simpson trial, like most criminal cases, had prosecutors assuming  the defendant’s guilt and defense lawyers presuming his innocence. But there was no reason to think drug lords were targeting Faye Resnick, much less confusing her for Nicole Brown Simpson, as this required more assumptions than concluding that the relevant evidence included a trail of O.J.’s DNA leading from the crime scene to his vehicle and residence, his history of abusing the victim, and bloody shoe imprints. 

Now let’s apply this to science. A blogger at logicofscience.com wrote about authoring a paper on the diet of a turtle species. In his research, he collected the shelled creatures, had them defecate in a bucket, then examined the feces. There, he found a variety of plants, insects, and crawfish. The conclusion was that these turtles ate a variety of plants, insects, and crawfish, since this explanation required the fewest assumptions.

The biology blogger noted he could have instead deduced that “someone went out before me, captured the turtles, force fed them crawfish, then put the turtles back into the pond.” Or he could have assumed this force feeding was done by aliens. But theses options would require unfounded assumptions, the latter necessitating a step beyond even the middle choice. Such conclusions are usually instances of begging the question, where speakers reach the conclusion first, then attempt to buoy that conclusion with unproven premises.

No one takes issue with the science when it involves reptile diets or other noncontroversial topics that leave world views and favored industries untouched. But if the scientific conclusions do impact those areas, there are those who seek to dull Occam’s razor, beg the question, and contort themselves in order to finagle around the evidence.

Young Earth Creationists, for example, insist all animals and plants were destroyed in a worldwide flood 5,000 years ago. This means that in the YEC scenario, all corals today would had to have started growing around the time the Pyramids were constructed. But corals grow about a foot a year under ideal conditions. The Great Barrier Reef would have taken more than 500,000 years to reach its current size.

For corals to have gotten as large as they are today, if they only started growing 5,000 years ago, they would had to have grown at a rate many times more than  has ever been observed. The standard YEC response is that perhaps growth rates were much faster in the past than they are now and that the rate has slowed down exponentially since, for reasons unknown.

They employ the same thought process with being able to see stars millions of light years away. This proves Earth has been around at least as long as it has taken the most distant starlight to reach us. But the YEC answer is that maybe the speed of light has not been constant. The coral and starlight responses are both instances of ad hoc reasoning backed by no evidence. It requires assuming that an aspect of botany or astronomy is much different from what has ever been observed or recorded. It is also begging the question. They begin with the assumption that a worldwide flood wiped everything out 5,000 years ago, then try to make all evidence (or in these cases, speculation) fit that assumption. They go from conclusion to evidence, whereas science works the other way.

A third area of creative deduction by YECs centers of alternating layers of light and dark sediment that accumulate in lakes. The different colors are the result of seasonal changes, with light layers made in winter and dark ones made in the summer. Some lake centers feature millions of these layers, so we can draw one of these conclusions:

  1. A set of two layers forms every year in these lakes. Some lakes contain millions of layers. Therefore these lakes are millions of years old.
  1. Layers were formed during the flood, through an unknown mechanism. By a second unknown means, floodwaters sorted the particles into alternating layers of sediment, then the layers managed to form only over lake beds, and did so at a rate of 10 layers per minute, rather than two per annum, which is the only rate that has been observed.

The YEC takes on these occurrences requires rejecting all data and scientists’ understanding of the natural processes involved. Their response to the scientifically-deduced facts are to offer unsupported ad hoc speculation that proposes unknown and unworkable mechanisms. They fail to manage even the first step in the Scientific Method, observation, because no one has observed the phenomena they claim are occurring. As our turtle excrement-collecting blogger noted, “If we grant creationists the ability to create unknown mechanisms in order to derive interpretations that match their pre-existing biases, then an infinite number of interpretations become possible. It is always possible to generate an ad hoc argument, which is why Occam’s Razor is so important. It tells us that the solution that makes the fewest assumptions is usually the correct one.”

That is why almost all conspiracy theories collapse under the weight of Occam’s Razor. Some anti-vaxxers claim that pharmaceutical executives pay immunologists to say vaccines don’t cause autism. Here, we have two options:

  1. Ethical scientists reach their conclusions through sound research.
  2. These hundreds of researchers from multitudinous institutions and companies are being paid to falsify data. Moreover, none of these hundreds who are in it solely for ill-gotten gain have been lured away by wealthy anti-vaxxers offering to pay them more.

This shill accusation is similar to the charge leveled at climate scientists. On this issue, the two primary competing options are:

  1. 99.8 percent of the 12,000 peer-reviewed papers published in the last five years have attested to anthropogenic global warming, so this is likely happening.
  2. Anonymous elites are paying these thousands of climate scientists to reach this conclusion and fabricate data, yet this plan is being foiled by oil company executives and Facebook posters exposing the plot.

Again, from the logicofscience: “Ask whether there is any reason to think the scientists are corrupt other than the fact that you don’t like their conclusions.”

Going back to the Sagan quote, if one is going to assert the scientific consensus is wrong about climate change, the Big Bang, evolution, vaccines, or GMOs, it is insufficient to offer, “Were you there when the universe began?” or “Follow the money trail.” The burden of proof is on the speaker to provide clear, well-researched, and reasoned evidence for their position.

In some instances, there is no damage other than to the listener’s intelligence. Ancient Aliens attempted to branch into evolutionary biology by suggesting extraterrestrial visitors may have altered dinosaur DNA in order to have them develop into smaller creatures like birds and coelacanth.

In other instances, the misinformation is fatal. Anti-vaxxers mistakenly cite improved sanitation and nutrition as the reason for the decline in infectious diseases over the last century and a half. While those were welcomed health advances, when it comes to disease eradication, here are the two choices offered:

  1. Vaccines work by mimicking disease agents for the real deal, which is why instances of the diseases plummet after vaccines are introduced, and spike when vaccination rates fall.
  2. The introduction of vaccines has coincidentally occurred at a time when the impacts of improved sanitation and nutrition were beginning to be seen. This benefit has extended to countries with deplorable sanitation like India. This has even effected airborne diseases like rubella, which are impacted by sanitation and nutrition improvements by an unknown means. A decline in vaccine rates does not impact disease; rather there has been a coincidental reduction in sanitary and nutrition benefits for unknown reasons when vaccine rates go down. The reason all this is not universal knowledge is because nearly every immunologist is pumping out fabricated propaganda to discredit sanitation and nutrition improvements and cover for vaccines, which actually cause disease.

Those who embrace the latter idea also cotton to the idea of a repressed cancer cure. But which requires the fewest assumptions: That oncologists have been unable to find a panacea for a disease that has more than 100 variations, or that they have, but are eschewing everlasting fame, untold fortune, worldwide adulation, and the chance to spare them and their loved ones, in order to continue enriching the pharmaceutical industry, which has yet to figure out there is more money to be saved in selling that cure?

Meanwhile, 9/11 Truthers talk about the hijackers having little flight training and Tower 7 collapsing despite not bearing a direct hit. They hypothesize that Flight 93 was shot down, insist that a missile hit the Pentagon, and make repeated references to jet fuel and steel beams. However, even if all their claims were valid, it would no more indicate guilt by the Bush Administration that it would cause blame to fall on Islamic terrorists, communists, the Irish Republican Army, or the few remaining Branch Davidians. Which requires the fewest assumptions: That a wealthy and committed terrorist leader with the means and stated desire to pull of such an attack did so, as indicated by passenger phone calls, conversations between hijackers and air traffic control, and flight manifests; or that it was all an elaborate hoax that included WTC security workers, victim’s family members, the airlines, Pentagon witnesses, BBC reporters, and even Philippines police officers, who in 1995 uncovered and turned over to the FBI evidence of what became the 9/11 plot?

One final example, focusing on Bigfoot, which has two primary options. Which of these contains the fewest assumptions?

  1. A complete lack of verifiable evidence strongly suggests its non-existence.
  2. A sustainable population of eight-foot bipedal apes has lived, bred, hunted, and roamed from the Northwest Territories to the Bayou for two centuries without once being shot by a hunter, hit by a vehicle, or leaving behind a corpse, skeleton, fur patch, or excrement.

It is not on me to disprove an ad hoc rationale about a troop of lumbering beasts mastering stealth and adroitly avoiding human contact at all cost. The burden falls on those who make these assertions the centerpiece of their Sasquatch Science.

“Absolutely lipid” (Statins denial)

BANANA

There exist among us those who advocate rejecting all medication in favor of “natural cures,” which are neither, and who implicate physicians and pharmaceutical executives in an alliance to pump patients full of needless, nefarious medication. Some of these potent pills and potions are said to kill people by the millions, which if true, would quickly leave the malevolent medics with no one left to prey on. If there was a conspiracy to sell medication that was without value, it would make more sense to sell placeboes that could be made much cheaper and which would avoid poisoning the customers.

Statins are among the drugs cited by believers in this conspiracy. Statins are lipid-lowering medications that reduce instances of cardiovascular disease among those most at risk. The anti-statin brigade includes the usual suspects, Mike Adams and Joseph Mercola, as well as a new one to me, Leonard Coldwell. The latter claims to have concocted a cure for cancer that is 92 percent effective. If so, there is truth to the hidden cancer cure conspiracy theory because Coldwell has yet to make his treatment publicly available.

Coldwell calls statins a mass murder method that invariably hardens the liver and slices 20 years off your life. In a lengthy retort, the SkepDoc Harriett Hall wrote that statins actually lengthen lifespans for those most at risk for cardiovascular disease, while lowering cholesterol. Coldwell agrees with the last part, but argues this is detrimental since he considers high cholesterol beneficial. But Hall noted, “You don’t die of either too much or too little cholesterol. You die of heart attacks and strokes, and reducing high cholesterol levels reduces your risk of those events.”

Coldwell claims that 250 being considered a normal cholesterol level is an arbitrary number dreamed up, but it actually came from measuring cholesterol levels in large populations. Those studies found that those with higher cholesterol levels were more likely to have heart attacks, and 250 is where the increase in risk was noticed.

Instead of scientifically-researched, tested, and proven statins, Coldwell recommends fending off heart disease with two bananas on an empty stomach. He cites this as a natural cure, even though the bananas we eat are remarkably unnatural, having been modified from a tiny, green, barely edible pod into today’s scrumptious elongated yellow fruit. And while regular consumption of fruits and vegetables promotes good health, there is no evidence for Coldwell’s claim that two daily bananas is an especially potent foe of cardiovascular disease.

Coldwell claims that Big Pharma spokespersons have described statins as a magic pill that will ward off heart attacks and other cardiovascular ailments. Hall shot down this strawman, noting that the medical establishment considers statins to be “drugs with risks and benefits, and the benefits have been determined to outweigh the risks.” It is not magic, doctors know how it works, and know it will work better for some than others.

Mercola and Adams both write that cholesterol has no bearing on heart disease and that statins will impair many biological functions and cause muscle pain. However, Hall’s PubMed search produced more than 30,000 articles on statins research, and a 2016 review of these studies by the Lancet found statins reduce the rate of heart attacks and strokes in at-risk patients by as much as 50 percent.

Of the 30,000 papers, Adams and Mercola cherry-pick a few isolated passages that suggest low cholesterol levels may be associated with higher death rates among the elderly. But the papers also noted this was not a causal relationship. People in their 90s often die for reasons unrelated to low cholesterol.

Critics sometimes label statins as overprescribed and while this strictly speaking is true, it is the result of a medical shortcoming, not a furtive attempt to enrich pharmaceutical executives and their lackey physicians. There is no way to know which patients will benefit from statins, but it is logical to treat anyone who may be at risk of heart attack and stroke. Consequently, many patients will take statins without seeing their risk of cardiovascular disease reduced. While the treatment won’t benefit everyone, those who do benefit do so greatly.

The detractors also highlight the drug’s possible side effects, but according to Hall, only one patient in 50,000 will develop a serious condition as a result of taking statins, and those usually disappear when the medication is discontinued. The critics also gloss over the fact that the side effects of bypassing statins can include premature death.

“Arbour missed” (ADHD denial)

DENNIS

Nicole Arbour has become a minor Internet celebrity by videotaping rants about groups of people who are different than Nicole Arbour. Blacks, the overweight, and feminists have all been on the receiving end of her mocking monologues. Her most recent assault is on ADHD sufferers and their parents. The gist of her railing is that the disorder is make-believe and that unfit parents should be spanking their little hellions into line.

In actuality, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has been a known clinical condition since at least the early 1900s. In his takedown of Arbour, skeptic blogger Emil Karlsson noted there are more than 30,000 articles about ADHD in PubMed.

Biological factors that contribute to ADHD include genetic variants of neurotransmitter receptors and transporters as well as differences in executive function that are related to memory and attention. Environmental factors may include brain injury, premature birth, and heavy lead exposure during pregnancy.

Arbour offers no research or a different interpretation of data. Rather, she is content to reject outright a swath of parents, make evidence-free claims that cola and cereal cause ADHD symptoms, and offer erroneous anecdotes. For instance, she claims the first person to describe ADHD eventually rejected his initial finding and concluded the disorder was nonexistent.

She is referring to Leon Eisenberg, who contributed to psychology’s understanding of childhood behavioral conditions, but ADHD had been identified 20 years before his birth. Second, Eisenberg never claimed ADHD was fictitious, he only thought psychosocial factors were more important than biological ones in causing the disorder.  He therefore thought that pills to control the condition were being overprescribed. Most importantly, even if Eisenberg had said ADHD doesn’t exist, that wouldn’t make it true and wouldn’t override what the tens of thousands of papers and decades have research have shown.

Another Arbour claim, one frequently espoused in the anti-ADHD camp, is that the disorder is over-diagnosed in the United States. Critics will point out that six percent of US children are identified as having ADHD, nearly 10 times what is seen in Europe, particularly France.

It is true that most American children diagnosed with ADHD would not be similarly labeled in France, while a child not diagnosed in France might be in the United States. But this is because the countries use different diagnostic systems and analyze different factors in making the determination.

In Europe, a child must show a sustained inability to adapt due to inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. In the United States, a child needs to show substantial impairment in just one of these categories.

Arbour uses the disparity when trotting out hackneyed claims of a Big Pharma conspiracy. Like most alleged conspiracies, it collapses under the weight of the ever-increasing number of participants who would need to be involved and stay silent for it to work. This one would have to involve pediatricians, school nurses, teachers, and psychiatrists working in concert to continue a sham for the benefit of shadowy pharmaceutical executives. Also conspiring would be parents such as Cristina Margolis, who blogs on issues related to ADHD.

In her response to Arbour’s characterization of parents like herself as lazy, coddling miscreants “who give kids drugs,” Margolis related her experience of being married to an ADHD sufferer and being the mother of one.

She noted that one of Arbour’s many mistakes was dismissing ADHD boys and girls as being nothing more than typical, hyper children. Margolis pointed out that hyperactivity is only one type of ADHD, with inattentiveness and a combination of the two being the others.

“Not all children with ADHD are hyper. ADHD affects people differently,” Margolis wrote. “When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, more coexisting conditions can arise as well, such as depression, anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder, and bipolar disorder. My then 6-year-old daughter told me she wanted to die. ADHD, depression, and all the other coexisting conditions are nothing to belittle and make fun of.”

This is not the first time that a public response has been warranted following a misinformation piece about the disorder. In 2015, blogger Matt Walsh labeled ADHD a myth, which prompted a detailed reply from Steven Novella of the Yale School of Medicine and president of the New England Skeptical Society.

Perhaps the most fundamental of Walsh’s errors was using “disease” and “disorder” interchangeably while failing to define either. Novella wrote, “ADHD is certainly not a disease. That term should be reserved for entities that involve a discrete pathophysiological condition. But in medicine, there are also clinical syndromes, disorders, and categories of disorders.”

Novella further explained that brain disorders are different than problems with organ systems that rely only on the health of cells and tissue: “Liver disease is largely caused by pathological processes affecting liver cells. However, brain cells also have other layers of complexity to their function, the pattern of connections, and the biochemical processes that underlie brain processing. To add another layer of complexity, part of the function of the brain is to interact with the environment, including other people and society. Because of this, medicine uses the concept of mental disorder to define a clinical entity in which a cluster of signs and symptoms relating to thought, mood, and behavior cause demonstrable harm.”

ADHD specifically is “a disorder of executive function, which is a definable neurological function that localizes to the frontal lobes. Executive function is what enables us to pay attention…and to inhibit behaviors that are not socially appropriate. Medication for ADHD improves function and outcomes and is cost effective.”

Walsh’s piece conspicuously lacked any of the technical terms and explanatory passages contained in Novella’s post. For instance, he wrote that because there is no magic line where the amount of hyperactivity and inattention crosses the threshold from normal to problematic, there is no disorder. That is the continuum fallacy and would be like arguing that because there’s no set number of drinks a person can have per week to go from a casual imbiber drinker to a lush, there are no alcoholics. While not referencing the 30,000 PubMed papers, Walsh did highlight three doctors who agree with him, displaying a cherry-picking acumen that would impress the most robust climate change denier.

Back to Margolis, she wrote that the disorder is a lifetime sentence, but that it can be controlled with diet, accommodations at school, and medication: “I hoped our daughter would respond well to treatment without medication, but she was one of many who needed more help. That is what ADHD medication is: Help. With her medication, she is excelling in school and extracurricular activities, making friends, and has gained self-confidence.” Margolis thus describes her daughter as “thriving,” while Arbour calls her “a zombie.”

 

 

“Flag razing” (False flags)

wolfsheep

The term “false flag” refers to the naval warfare tactic of a ship flying a banner other than its battle ensign in hopes of luring enemy ships within striking range. Similar tactics have been used on land, with soldiers dressing in enemy uniforms. In a more generic sense, false flag refers to a government perpetrating an atrocity, then blaming it on another entity, generally an enemy.

They have been happening for a long time. There are conflicting opinions about whether Nero set the fire that burned parts of Rome, then blamed it on Christians. The sinking of the Maine may have been a false flag, though it might have been caused by an internal coal explosion. In either case, when artist Frederic Remington told publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst that there were no hostilities in Cuba to illustrate, Hearst replied, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” The resulting art work was a false flag, albeit a rare one that was perpetrated by a powerful private person rather than the government.

There are other examples. Japan staged a railroad bombing and blamed it on the Chinese to justify its 1931 Manchurian invasion. Later that decade, Nazis dressed in Polish uniforms and set off explosives as a pretext to launch World War II. The CIA’s Operation Gladio was likely responsible for acts of terrorism that the U.S. blamed on Communists. And in the Lavon Affair, Israel staged minor terrorist attacks against Western targets and tried to pin them on Nasser.

So governments and yellow journalists have staged or supported false flag events. While it might be reasonable to think these still occur, there are some people for whom the default position is that any terrorist attack or invasion is a false flag. It is a major flaw in a theory if the conclusion is reached first, then evidence is sought to support it. Especially if contrary information is rejected solely for being contrary.  

Let’s take the 9/11 Truther assertion that no plane hit the Pentagon. Believers base this on there being no clear shot of the impact, just a blurred horizontal image, followed by an explosion one frame later. They also insist that the hole is seemingly being too narrow for an airplane to have passed through it.

However, USA Today reporter Mike Walter witnessed the attack and he reported seeing a plane flying very low, then banking lower still and colliding with the building. Initially, he was a darling of the Truther movement because a couple of European journalists had printed only part of his interview with CNN and made it appear as though he said a missile had hit the Pentagon. In fact, he had made it clear he had seen an airplane, but described its movement as being “like a cruise missile.” Walter made an explanatory video about this, showing the full CNN interview and reiterating his eyewitness account. He included that he saw the wings fold back upon impact and that explained why the hole was the size it was.

The Truthers’ answer to this was that he was lying. In what passed for their evidence, they wrote, “His eyes are darting, which indicates deception,” and “You can tell he’s reading from a script.” While eyewitness accounts are unreliable, it would be supremely unlikely that multiple people would misidentify a plane slamming into the world’s largest office building. But to a Truther, the words of Walter and the others contradicted their favored narrative so the witnesses became part of the plot.

Regulars to conspiracy theory websites pride themselves on continually questioning mainstream accounts of such events, yet seldom extend this scrutiny to claims made by fellow theorists. So they will accept unsubstantiated assertions about prevaricating Pentagon witnesses, but never point out that in 16 years, theorists have yet to produce one person who saw a missile.

Nor do Truthers explain what happened to the crew or passengers listed on the manifest or to the airplane. The call from Barbara Olson to her husband is likewise unexplained. In fact, all Truther points I’ve encountered are in the form of negative evidence. Even if Walter and the rest were lying, even if there was no airplane, even if explosives brought down the three towers in New York, even if Flight 77 passengers are holed up in a bunker, where is one piece of evidence that the Bush administration is responsible?

Since 9/11, nearly every terrorist attack or mass casualty is considered by some conspiracy theorists to be fabricated. They continue to call these false flags, though they are misusing the term. The examples cited so far, from Nero to the World Trade Center, all featured persons being slaughtered and buildings or equipment being destroyed. This is a key point because conspiracy theorists today use the traditional definition of false flag to mean something quite different, specifically that no one was harmed. A false false flag, I suppose. They are not claiming that the Boston Marathon bombing or Orlando nightclub shooting were perpetrated by government agents, they are saying they never happened. In these and similar tragedies, they label as liars the witnesses, victims, reporters, emergency workers, and family members of those slain.

Another crucial difference is that the verified false flags were used as a pretext for invasion. By contrast, the string of mass shootings and bombings that theorists have labeled false flags were followed by no action. The government has not blamed these on an entity they then engage, nor have they commenced with a roundup of undesirables or a confiscation of guns.

On the more extreme sites, it goes beyond insisting that plane disappearances, mass shootings, and bombings were staged. Even train derailments, hostile police encounters, and videos of racists railing in checkout lanes are considered scripted. Anyone with contrary information is part of the plot. Anyone arguing with the conclusions is being paid by the government to do so.

Advocates of these theories are almost always vague as to the reasons this is being done and are hostile about the question even being raised. They can offer nothing more than the government is engaging in psychological warfare on its citizens. Usually no reason is given, though Billy DeMoss speculates that it is to weaken our resistance so that a mass extermination can wipe out two-thirds of humanity, with the survivors herded into FEMA camps. Projections like this always take place in what I call an Eternal Tomorrow. It is always so tantalizingly close, the signs are there and obvious to the woken people, yet it never quite arrives.

These websites feature self-congratulation and the deriding of sheeple and skeptics who can’t see the clear truth. When a photo of hospitalized Oregon shooting hero Chris Mintz was released, theorists pounced on the fact that they didn’t think he looked wounded enough. This caused one of them to fume, “Now they’re just throwing it in our faces, making it so obviously fake. They’re laughing at us.” I suppose he got that last part right.

The most extreme of the extreme sites is nodisinfo.com, in which 100 percent of media accounts are labeled staged events. After a nonfatal collision between a bus and a semitrailer, the website claimed the blood streaming down one of the victim’s faces had no cut from which it was emanating, but had rather been applied as makeup. After the Fort Hood shooting, they described soldiers who had been moved to safety as looking too calm. Later, the neighbor lady of the shooter posed with his picture for a photographer and the website said the fact that she was smiling proved the shooting never happened.  

These are more examples of negative evidence. Because a skeptic cannot describe the precise thought process and actions of anyone in a given tragic situation, it means the theorist is right, no matter how ludicrous or unsubstantiated the claim.

Even possible future events are labeled false flags. There is an annual Army exercise in Indiana that simulates a nuclear dirty bomb being detonated in Indianapolis and at least one website argues this is a precursor to a false flag that will simulate the same.

Similarly, theorists will dig for any instance of a nearby emergency exercise having been held within six months of a shooting or bombing. They consider any training event proof it was rehearsal for a staged event. But military and law enforcement train for contingencies all the time. Training for a bombing’s aftermath in an urban area, followed by an actual bomb 22 days later is an explicable coincidence that requires no coordination of government henchmen, media lackeys, and crisis actors. Speaking of which, in Conspiracy Theory Land, there are 100,000 crisis actors ready to be called on, none of whom are ever identified or outed by their friends, neighbors, or relatives.

Conspiracy theorists rely heavily on anomaly hunting. This is looking for one piece that doesn’t seem to fit or seems contradictory. They scour photos, eyewitnesses’ faces, and reporters’ words, looking for anything that looks inconsistent, which they have a very loose definition of. Any photo that contradicts their claims will be labeled a PhotoShop forgery. Any inconsistency by spokespersons, witnesses, emergency workers, or reporters, no matter how minor, is considered rock solid proof the entire event never happened. Similarly, they consider consistency proof it was rehearsed.

One of the more well-known captures made by anomaly hunters is the Umbrella Man at Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963.  The focus is on him, rather than the totality of the Warren Commission report, the autopsy, ballistic evidence, Oswald’s slaying of J.D. Tippit, and Gerald Posner’s book, Case Closed.  The umbrella might be a signal to the shooter, heck maybe he’s even a backup assassin – a poison pellet was once delivered via an umbrella after all. But the goal is not usually to prove any of this, it’s just to invite endless speculation, ponder exciting possibilities, cast doubt on the popular idea, and offer self-praise for one’s investigative acumen.

As Steven Novella put it, “Conspiracy theorists assume agency, deliberateness, and sinister motivations in the quirky details of events. When anomalies are inevitably found, it is assumed that they are evidence for a conspiracy. Conspiracy theorists tend to ask, ‘What are the odds of a man standing with an open umbrella right next to the president when he was shot?’ They should be asking, ‘What are the odds of anything unusual occurring in any way with any aspect of the JFK assassination?’”

In events as massive as 9/11, there are many thousands of moving pieces, so finding an anomaly or two or even 10 will be easy. A BBC reporter announced Tower 7 had fell when it was still seen standing in the background. The theorist will consider this more consequential than the mounds of intelligence pointing to Osama bin Laden’s involvement, phone calls from passengers and flight attendants describing Islamic terrorists with pepper spray and box cutters, audio of an air traffic controller conversing with Mohamed Atta, terrorist names’ on manifests, images of them passing through security, and airline employees accounts of them checking in.

In one supposed anomaly, some Truthers claim the Fight 77 manifest list had an extraordinary number of senior leaders in fields such as military science, aviation, politics, software, and security. Why this collection of relative bigwigs being onboard would matter is never explained. It’s another example of asking questions for the sake of doing so and reflexively challenging what “They” say. Besides, this passenger list is what might be expected on a flight leaving from the hub of the US military and security industries. Truthers offer no comparison flight lists to bolster their contention that Flight 77’s passengers constituted an unusually successful group of flyers. Nor is any tie established between the list and Bush perpetrating the greatest mass slaughter in U.S. history.

Another issue they bring up is to ask how a passport could survive a plane crashing into a tower. Answer: The same way seat cushions did. The same way the mileage card of victim Lisa Frost did. Explosions incinerate some objects and send others hurtling. But Truthers aren’t looking for this answer, or any other. They only intend to sow doubt on what government spokespersons and reporters are telling us.

For proof of this, consider the way hardened conspiracy theorists responded to Edward Snowden. If one was convinced the government was perpetrating misdeeds against its citizens and was being aided by a compliant media, news articles exposing NSA malfeasance would have been a dream. But theorists instead considered Snowden a plant. They are only interested in anything being exposed if they or their fellow theorists are the ones claiming to do so.

One of their favorite mantras is to dismiss mainstream accounts as the “official story.” Except in infrequent instances such as reports by the 9/11 and Warren Commissions, there is no “official story.” It is a manufactured term meant to drive a wedge between our big bad overseers and brave, enterprising truth seekers. And while “official story” is used to describe what government entities are saying, independent journalists, scientists, and amateur detectives often come to the same conclusions. At least according to the Man In Black looking over my shoulder.

“Whiteout” (White Genocide Theory)

BLACKCHESS

When my cousin complained about having to press ‘1’ for English, I asked her, “How do you think the Cherokee and Choctaw feel about it?”

The cousin’s us-against-them mentality has been displayed by many others since the election. When the Texas senate passed an anti-gay adoption bill last week, legislators said they were emboldened to do so because the president had endorsed ‘religious liberty,’ which these days is translucent code talk for “license to discriminate.”

Those celebrating this religious liberty refrain from extending the concept to Islam, which has been the subject of more fierce opposition in the last year. The most notable example was Trump’s failed attempt to prevent travel from seven Middle Eastern and African nations. For some, the ban went nowhere near far enough, and in some bigoted corners, the focus on Hispanics and Muslims has caused brown to replace black as the most denigrated skin color.

Ironically, those making these complaints are beneficiaries of the only time in U.S. history that immigrants and their descendants have run the indigenous from their homes, claimed their natural resources, supplanted their religion, dressed them in invaders’ clothes, and implemented a new language. This conquest eventually allowed the interlopers’ descendants to worry about losing their dominance and to grumble about automated telephone options.

For some, it’s just a bitch fest. For others it involves more substantial animosity. There have been thousands of Christian invocations to open U.S. House sessions over the decades, but just one Hindu prayer threw some fundamentalists into apoplectic shock.

Timothy Dailey of the Family Research Council considered the sinister supplication to be responsible for the quaking of Western Civilization. He wrote, “Our founders expected that Christianity – and no other religion – would receive support from the government.” In truth, our founders had expected that no religion would receive government support. Something about “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Following this embrace of alternate truth, Dailey wistfully added, “The U.S. has historically honored the One True God.” That being the one Dailey was told from preschool to believe in. He then added the obligatory Armageddon overtones, finishing with, “Woe be to us on that day when we relegate him to being merely one in the pantheon.” Somehow nearly every universities’ religious studies program has done this for centuries without experiencing boils, lice, or other plagues.

Dailey’s hyperbolic reaction is a microcosm for how entitled majorities respond when they are subjected to rare instances of being treated equally rather than with preference.

Some take their objection to more equitable treatment even further than Dailey. There are racists who think it’s part of a movement to make whites a minority in countries where they are now a majority. Depending on the fervency and cranial capacity of the believer, this may extend to a conviction that there are plans to round up palefaces and eventually exterminate them.

As to who is to blame for this nascent holocaust, the most obvious perpetrators are anyone who resides in or wants to move to the U.S., Canada, or Europe without being white. Other conspirators are those who marry minorities, plus the whites who through action or apathy allow this immigration and miscegenation.

But like most good conspiracies, the bulk of nefariousness is done by shadowy types. In this theory, there is no code talk of Illuminati, Bilderbergers, Rothschilds, Skull & Bones, Bohemian Grove, or international bankers. They’ll just come out and say ‘Jews,’ or an epithet for the same. Unexplained is how the Jews perpetrating this white genocide will escape it since they too are light-skinned.

While whites need to be ushered out, the plot only works if minorities increase their numbers, so a high birth rate among nonwhites is one of the volleys being fired in this stealthy assault. Theorists point out the U.S. had once been 85 percent white, while it is now 63 percent. Reasons for this trend include the high number of Asian tech workers, scant job opportunities in the Third World, and acceptance of war refugees. But believers ignore these factors and instead describe a plot to murder them and their supremacist brethren. They assert that America’s Zionist government (which is 8 percent Jewish) will continue to push white numbers lower until they dwindle to a point where resistance to the Caucasian Catastrophe is futile.

There have been differing definitions of white over the years and in different parts of the world. Spaniards, Slavs, Finns, Jews, Italians, and the Irish have all been considered white or not white depending on who was doing the deciding. For the hard core racists, the defining characteristic is low melanin amounts, although they exclude the Jews for no rational reason. It is presumably an attempt to emulate the Nazis, who presented the Aryan ideal as fit, blonde, blue-eyed, and square-jawed – features noticeably absent among Third Reich leaders. Since there are differing definitions of who is white, it is unclear how broad this genocide net is being cast. Even more blurry is what evidence the theorists have for their position.

Genocide is the attempt to wipe out a group of people, but this isn’t always limited to mass murder. It can include mutilation, torture, forced sterilization and abortion, curtailed liberties, kangaroo courts, kidnappings, the breaking up of families, child conscription, human trafficking, and mandatory repatriation or exile.

Irish blogger Robert Nielson notes that no Western governments or private entities are foisting any of this en masse on whites. To the contrary, many whites continue to enjoy long life expectancy, excellent medical care, and a comfortable standard of living. Someone who is lower middle class in the U.S. would be well-off in parts of Latin and South America.

Further, while the percentage of immigrants in the U.S. has gone up over the last 30 years, that’s true in many countries where being white and a minority are synonymous. Nielson points out that Southwest Asia dominates the list of nations who have the highest percentage of its residents who were born abroad. The UAE has the most at 84 percent and also near the top are Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Jordan. The only white majority country in the top 10 is Switzerland at 28 percent, and blacks account for just one percent of the Swiss.

This shoots down one of the theorists’ talking points, which is that there is a de facto policy of Africa being for Africans, Asia being for Asians, and Europe and the United States being for anyone. To try and support this, they will ignore the above examples and highlight outlier Japan, whose arduous immigration requirements last year resulted in just 11 applicants being granted citizenship.

When racist conspiracy theorists harp on immigration, they assume the new arrivals are at least a few shades darker than the majority. Yet most immigrants to European countries are whites coming from other European nations. And when the theorists quote the number of emigrating Muslims, they never consider that they might be from Albania, Bosnia, or Croatia.

And despite an alleged influx of foreigners into the United States, the 13.4 percent of residents here who were born abroad is less than what it was in 1910.

A few other numbers work against the notion of white genocide. Whites have the lowest percentage of interracial marriage in U.S. at just seven percent, and it is less than 10 percent in most of Europe. This hardly sounds like the breeding ground (so to speak) for a systemic attempt to eradicate whites through miscegenation. The fact that pursuing this policy would also serve to eradicate other colors never seems to be brought up on Stormfront and similar forums.  

Additionally, the notion that a secret cabal is encouraging whites to have fewer children while telling minorities to crank them out is without corroboration. Theorists point out that in 2011, for the first time, whites accounted for less than 50 percent of U.S. births. But at 49.7 percent, white births were still nearly double the next racial category. This does not suggest a people on the brink of elimination.

That is why projections that have whites being less than 50 percent of the U.S. by 2044 does not portend an approaching Aryan apocalypse. These projections still have whites being by far the most populous group. It would be fine with me if whites ever lost this distinction, if only for the spectacle of seeing Klansmen clamoring for minority rights.

“Union Jackboot” (North American Union)

NAUFLAG

In the late 1990s, Michael Moore previewed an upcoming episode of The Awful Truth by announcing he would be helping aliens illegally enter the United States. This teaser included a video of him ushering people across the border under cover of darkness. During the episode, the full truth was revealed, as viewers came to learn Moore was assisting with an invasion of Canadians.  

Moore was pointing out the hypocrisy of persons having far less of a problem with that than with helping aliens cross the southern border. However, there is a difference between racial bigotry and xenophobia. While they often go together, and many persons exhibit both, there are subtleties that distinguish them.

I saw an interview with a racist who admitted he would have no trouble with immigrants, legal or otherwise, coming from Sweden. It was the Latinos he had an issue with, and he freely admitted it was the amount of melanin in their skin that he took issue with.

By contrast, let’s consider the Birthers. Certainly, it is no coincidence that the movement arose once a man with dark skin ascended to the presidency. When someone sees their world being upended in ways they find discomforting, they look to reassert control and seek revenge on those responsible. But even in the wacky Birther world, there was a difference between the hard core adherents and the less strident. For the latter, the theory was primarily a way of coping with election results they were unable to handle. Rather than asking, “Where did we go wrong, why did we fail,” it was more reassuring to insist, “The other side cheated.”

But the hardcore Birthers, while just as wrong and also spurred in part by racial bigotry, were driven more by xenophobia. These types also objected to John McCain’s presidential bid because he was born in the Canal Zone. Eight years later, they created memes in which Ted Cruz was a puppet of either Canada or Cuba. Even birth in the United States was insufficient, as venom was also flung at Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and even the lilywhite Rick Santorum, all for daring to have foreign parents.

For these folks, a Caucasian Christian Conservative candidate would be opposed if he moved the United States from London when he was three days old. Again, I’m not denying racial animus on the part of these people. They would likely not be OK with their daughter showing up with a black man (or a woman of any color, for that matter). Still, their overriding bigotry is xenophobia, and they are the types who endorse the idea that U.S. sovereignty is about to be sacrificed to a North American Union.

Jerome Corsi, who championed the idea before giving his considerable conspiracy energies to the Birther movement, described the NAU as a globalist attempt by  to surreptitiously dismantle the borders between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. The three federal governments will then be dissolved and in their place will be communist policies, barbed wire, and Kafkaesque courts.

Some say this takeover is already underway, while others think it’s in the planning stages. Either way, the goal is for unspecified elites to oversee a new government that allows allows them almost unlimited power and profit. This will all be buoyed by 500,000,000 involuntary laborers toiling in a totalitarian dystopia.

There is no evidence this is taking place, but believers point to disparate catastrophes as being part of the plot. The Sept. 11 attacks, for instance, were perpetuated to give the government a chance to increase control of the populace and smooth the way to stand up the Union. While the Patriot Act includes many chilling provisions that potentially makes the U.S. more authoritarian, this actually runs counter to the NAU theory, which presupposes the U.S. will sacrifice its sovereignty.

Believers also assert that Hurricane Katrina was created and controlled by HAARP weapons. The reason was to provide a guise under which the usual suspects could be rounded up and ushered into FEMA camps.

For being central to the theory, these camps are conspicuously missing, as is an extra wide highway that will run the run the length of the three countries. This construction project would be exceedingly difficult to pull off clandestinely, yet NAU believers continually insist it is being built or planned.

The most frequently-cited evidence for the coming NAU is the supposed existence of the amero, a currency that will replace the U.S. and Canadian dollars and the peso. There are examples of such bills and coins, but they were created as novelties by individuals and private companies, not government mints.

The coins were the brainchild of Daniel Carr, who designed the New York and Rhode Island statehood quarters. Unauthorized postings of images taken from his website were touted in conspiracy circles as proof the NAU is imminent.  

Before being sentenced to prison for encouraging the assassination of federal judges, white nationalist Hal Turner was the primary promoter of the coin/collective roundup connection. After Carr explained the truth on his website, Turner played the classic conspiracy theory card of claiming evidence that disproved the theory was instead part of it. Turner claimed Carr’s coin website had been created overnight for the express purpose of discrediting him. In truth, the website had been up for years.

From there, Turner moved onto highlighting paper money. His blog ran photos of amero bills in different denominations. He deflected inquiries as to where they came from, citing only “my sources.” Sources other than his own revealed the images had been pilfered from a Flickr user who had created them for purposes of artistic and political commentary.

In what passes for one of their arguments, supporters of the theory point out that many European countries adopted the Euro. Besides being irrelevant, this glosses over significant differences between European and North American countries and economies. Also, the euro was publicly announced and planned, whereas the amero is supposedly shrouded in sinister secrecy.

Plus, the euro was created to solve problems specific to Europe, which featured dozens of small countries doing business among each another. This became an issue because each nation had separately fluctuating currencies, exchange was inefficient and costly, interest rates spiked and dipped wildly, and there were varied, continually changing inflation rates. All this turned almost every transaction between European nations into guesswork.  

The euro cleared up these problems, so much so that U.S. Soldiers who had received four Deutschemarks for every dollar were, 10 years later, getting just 75 Euro cents for that buck.

North American countries, meanwhile, do not experience the myriad economic issues that plagued Europe before it adopted a common currency. There are only three economies and exchange rates in play, and NAFTA has solved many of the economic issues the North American countries had faced.

Likewise, there’s little comparison between the EU and the nefarious NAU. EU members retain sovereignty, hold elections, issue passports, raise armed forces, collect customs, and have the option of maintaining a border presence. More tellingly, the EU is not imprisoning citizens without trial or shipping them to slave labor camps.

Two groups are cited by theorists as evidence for the planned Union: the Independent Task Force on North America, and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. The former is a group of business owners and academics, while the latter consisted primarily of government officials, whose stated goals were information sharing, improved productivity, reducing trade costs, environmental protection, disease reduction, and ensuring access to clean food and water.

It mattered little to the theorists that neither of these groups entered into any treaties or agreements. Lou Dobbs, probably the most conspiratorial-minded mainstream media personality, called the SPP as an agreement which would establish the North American Union without Congressional consent. In fact, it was not an agreement, it formed no Union, and attempted no end run around Congress, and indeed had nothing to try and sneak past it.  

Pointedly, neither Dobbs nor any other theory subscriber considered the 2009 dissolution of the SPP to be evidence the NAU proposal had been abandoned.

Another supposed piece of evidence is a Council on Foreign Relations report that calls for more economic cooperation and intelligence-sharing among the three countries. However, the CFR is a non-governmental organization that has no relevance to policy making in any of the countries.

Besides, the paper calls for little more than streamlined customs procedures that would eliminate tariffs between the countries and employ a common tariff for goods imported from outside the three nations. The paper also calls for greater border security, which would be antithetical to the NAU’s supposed goal, and which would stifle Moore’s Canadian interlopers.

“I Fought the Law of Thermodynamics” (Stanley Meyer)

WATERCAR

If setting out to find a microcosm for all things pseudoscience, one might well end up at Stanley Meyer. He hit most of the major hallmarks: Remarkable, untestable claims; working in isolation; never producing a working model to be examined; showing his device to reporters, not researchers; claiming to defy the laws of physics without offering evidence this was being done or demonstrating the method by which this was achieved.

Even in death, the pseudoscience hallmarks continued to spring forth, as his believers insisted he was murdered in order to keep his invention hidden.    

Meyer claimed to have modified a dune buggy engine so that the vehicle could run on a water-fuel cell that operated via an unexplained, advanced form of electrolysis. He said an oxygen-hydrogen generator enabled this Magic Bus to go 100 miles on a gallon of water.

When Meyer died, he left behind no known blueprints, working models, correspondence with scientists, or anything that would substantiate his sizable claims. He never submitted anything for peer review or offered an explanation for how he had managed to violate the First Law of Thermodynamics.

This Law states that energy cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system. Meyer’s device purportedly split water into hydrogen and oxygen, then caused the hydrogen to burn and generate energy, and finally reconstituted the water molecules and started the process over. The first two steps describe what happens in a fuel cell and is well-understood science. The third step describes a perpetual motion machine and is pseudoscientific folly. His fuel cell purportedly split water with less energy than what was released by the recombination of the elements.

A glaring red flag was that Meyer made his pitch not to scientific journal editors but to investors. Or litigants as they were later known. Meyer was successfully sued by those he had duped into purchasing dealerships that never received anything to deal. His water-fuel cell was examined by three expert witnesses in his fraud case and they testified that it employed only conventional electrolysis. Unlike the fraud laws he was found to have violated, the laws of thermodynamics could not be ignored just because Meyer found them inconvenient.

Meyer died on March 20, 1998, after a restaurant meal. According to his brother, he had been meeting with two investors, when he suddenly exited the restaurant, declaring, “They poisoned me.” It’s unclear who ‘they’ were. It could have meant the chefs, the investors, or those he had previously tricked out of their money. But conspiracy theorists have filled in the blanks to mean it was those whose livelihood and fortunes would be threatened if Meyer’s device worked.  

Despite the poisoning claim, the county coroner found the cause of death to be a cerebral aneurism. This, of course, is meaningless to a conspiracy theorist, for whom any contradictory information is more evidence of a cover-up. In this case, that means that the coroner was in on the plot or was threatened with a similar fate unless he falsified his report.  

Beyond the total lack of evidence for the poisoning claim, murdering him would do little good because if his methods were real, researchers into alternative fuel sources would also discover them.

Besides, most successful businesses adapt and embrace change. Restaurants alter the menu when faced with demands for healthier options or vegetarian fare. Newspapers have established an online presence with subscription fees for full access. When baseball integrated, bigoted owners and scouts began signing former Negro League players and started gauging the talent on Hispaniola and in Cuba. If a water-powered car prototype were a reality, automobile manufacturers and petroleum companies would want to find a way to profit from it, not eliminate the man who would make this possible.