“For real, people?” (Flat Earth)


The notion of equal time is legitimate when it comes to opinion, but not when it comes to fact. Creationists call for equal time in taxpayer-funded schools but they are promoting a position that is unfalsifiable, untestable, and unprovable, short of the biblical god descending from the heavens and showing us how it works. While such equal time efforts have failed, southern states, particularly Louisiana, continue to try and skirt the law.

Meanwhile, Louisiana’s equally-backward neighbor, Texas, has textbooks which teach Moses was a U.S. Founding Father. Supporters say this inclusion is justified because of the American justice being inspired by the 10 Commandments. These claims are not on shaky ground, they are at the epicenter of an 8-richter earthquake. Only two of the 10 Commandments are also laws, and those – murder and stealing – are crimes in every jurisdiction worldwide.

The truth being denied to Texas schoolchildren is that the Constitution was assembled from the ideas of ancient Rome, the Magna Carta, the Enlightenment, the Mayflower Compact, the House of Burgesses, the Federalist Papers, and the Declaration of Independence. As to Moses and his tablets influencing U.S. law, contrast the First Amendment to the First Commandment. The former guarantees the right to worship any god or goddess or none at all; the latter mandates worship of the Abrahamic god. Yet Texas schoolchildren are learning that U.S. legal system stems from the ideas of Moses instead of John Locke, whose Letters Concerning Toleration served as a blueprint for the Constitution’s assurance that church and state shall not be intertwined.

Considering this anti-fact victory and inexhaustible attempts to get creationism taught in biology class, it seems only a matter of time before calls for flat Earth equal time are heard. As such, it pays to be prepared for this eventual absurdity. (UPDATE: This has now happened).

One of the first pieces of evidence for a circular planet was noticed by Aristotle when he saw that a ship’s top was the first vessel part viewed when it approached from the horizon. Were Earth flat, Aristotle realized, we would see the front of the ship first. Since then, we have managed manned space flights, global positioning systems, and pictures of a round Earth, none of which is enough to convince some persons about its shape. So here are some more arguments if you ever need them.

Earth’s round shadow is cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse. The flat Earth retort is usually that, rather than Earth, an unknown mysterious object is casting the shadow. This mystery object has magic powers, as it gets this close to Earth without having its gravity affect our planet. This mystery-object answer is a synopsis of the flat Earth position. In his Forbes article addressing flat Earth arguments, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel noted that a person cannot be reasoned out of something they didn’t reason themselves into. So it’s OK to make these points known, just be aware that they are unlikely to change flat Earth minds.

A lesser-heard claim regarding lunar eclipses is that Earth is indeed casting its shadow, but what appears to be a ball is actually a plate as if viewed from the top. But the image is always the same, which would only be possible only if the sun-flat Earth-moon positioning were identical during every eclipse. This would further necessitate eclipses occurring at the same time of night during every instance.

With regard to solar eclipses, flat Earthers armed with a flashlight and plate argue that the moon’s shadow should be bigger than the moon since the image on the wall is larger than the plate during their experiment. However, the sun is a distant, diffuse light source instead of a nearby point source, so this analogy is mistaken.

Another argument in the round Earth arsenal is that the moon looks different depending on which side of the equator the moon gazer is on. The perspective will be different owing to the planet’s curvature. Similarly, different stars are visible from different latitudes. In Canada, persons can see the Big and Little Dippers and the Pleiades, while those in Chile are never afforded those views. Likewise, Chilean astronomers can see Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross, sky gazing sights denied to those north of the Equator. Were Earth flat and stationary, we would all see the same sky images.

When Charles and Marjory Johnson were profiled on the NBC program Real People in the late 1970s, they were the only two members of the International Flat Earth Society. The organization had blossomed to 3,500 by the time Mr. Johnson died 21 years later and the Internet, which ironically sometimes employs satellite technology, has enabled the movement to rise again, although not high enough for its members to see Earth’s shape.

Adopting this position requires more than asserting the planet’s form. Insisting on flatness requires a very long series of ad hoc rationalizations since a round, rotating Earth explains seasons, varying amounts of daylight throughout the year, light and dark cycles, and eclipses. All this must be rationalized away to make a flat Earth work.

As such, flat Earthers think the moon and sun are close to our planet, are each 32 miles in diameter, and move in a perpetual circular path around the North Pole. This creative argument is used to try and explain why it’s light and dark in different places, but it fails to consider Antarctica, which is omitted from flat Earth maps. Nor does this argument account for daylight lasting longer depending on the time of year and latitude. If the flat Earther explanation was correct, there would be equal amount of light and dark each day in all parts of the planet. 

The Flat Earth map also contains many spacing errors. For instance, Chile and New Zealand are about 2.5 times farther from each other than they are on a globe, whose distances we know are correct because of flight times. On a flat Earth, pilots flying from Auckland to Santiago would go over Galveston, Texas, and the trip would take nearly 30 hours.  

These pilots would need to be in on the fix, as would be astronauts, GPS manufacturers, satellite manufacturers, and high-altitude jumper Felix Baumgartner. Flat Earthers point out that these persons receive fortune or fame from maintaining the global conspiracy, but in so doing commit one of the most common conspiracy theorist mistakes: Presuming that benefiting from means being responsible for. Persons who sold their stock market investments in September 1929 benefited from this decision but that does not mean they caused the Crash. None of the nearly million persons that would be necessary to continue this hoax have come forward and it would require the Soviet Union knowingly allowing the United States to falsely claim winning the race to the moon. As to high-altitude photos, flat Earthers offer the comical reasoning that they are taken with a fish eye lens, even though the planet is the only object in the pictures so affected.

Then we have circumnavigation. Flat Earthers claim circumnavigators are merely going in broad circles around the North Pole, which they consider to be in the middle of the planet. This is a lie, as Magellan’s crew and subsequent seafarers have gone roughly east or west the entire trip and ended up back where they started. Flat Earthers insist north-south navigation has never been done, but Sir Ranulph Fiennes accomplished this from 1979-1982. When I pointed this out to a believer, his response was that “Sir” provided the relevant clue, as Fiennes had been awarded knighthood for his part in the perpetuating the myth. This, even though in 1979, only a few hundred Earthly inhabitants thought their planet was flat, eliminating any need for myth-strengthening.

Next, consider different seasons. I wish I had done so when I traveled from Hawaii to Sydney in June and forgot about this. I showed up wearing shorts and a T-shirt in the winter. I had to put the opera house and kangaroo watching on hold and make  a clothing store my first stop. The yearly orbit of Earth around the sun explains the change in seasons and seasons being reversed in Hawaii and Australia. This could not happen on an planet that perpetually remained at the same angle to the sun.

Additionally, Siegel noted that viewers on the peak of Mauna Kea, the Big Island’s highest point, cannot see Kawaikini, which sits on Kauai. Kawaikini is 303 miles away and could be viewed if Earth were flat. But with a curved Earth, the line-of-sight limit is at 233 miles.

The modern flat Earth movement may have been launched by Samuel Shenton, who was still in a round Earth mindset when he designed a dirigible he thought could lift off from England, hover for a few hours, then land in North America, since Earth would rotate beneath his floating vehicle. This comical attempt failed because the atmosphere and anything in it moves with Earth. To overcome this force, energy such as is expended by an airplane is needed. Rather than admitting this embarrassing gaffe, Shenton insisted he had discovered a repressed truth, and he dedicated the rest of what passed for his life to flat Earth evangelism.

On another point, mass attracts objects to it. Siegel wrote, “The force of attraction between two objects depends on their mass and the distance between them. Gravity will pull toward the center of mass of the objects. On a sphere’s surface, gravity will pull you toward the sphere’s center of mass: straight down. Since a sphere has a consistent shape, no matter where on it you stand, you have exactly the same amount of sphere under you. By contrast, the center of mass of a flat plane is in its center, so the force of gravity will pull anything on the surface toward the middle of the plane.” So on a flat Earth, Newton would have never been hit by that apple, which would have been flung sideways.

The Flat Earth Society retort to this is, “Sphere earth gravity is not tenable in any way shape or form,” an assertion it supports with no research, experiments, or evidence. Again, you can lead them to the scientific waters, but you can’t make them drink. 


“Harboring a delusion” (U.S. complicity in Japanese attack)


Conspiracy theories are nothing new, nor is the term, despite an indefatigable claim the CIA coined the phrase after JKF’s assassination to make those arguing for them seem unhinged.

The differences today are how easy they are to spread and, stemming from that, how even trivial items can become the focus of conspiracy theories. Previously, they centered only on major events, such as assassinations, pandemics, and war.

For example, there was a belief by some that the Roosevelt administration had prior knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack and allowed it to happen, perhaps to get the country out of the Depression by means of a wartime economy. This thinking falls flat because the U.S. could have still been on high alert, or better yet, launched a preemptive strike based on this supposed intelligence. In these scenarios, Roosevelt still gets his war and does so without the handicap of losing battleships, destroyers, aircraft, and the 2,459 service members who perished in the Japanese onslaught.

But let’s look at some of the specific arguments. One of the more repeated lines among theorists is that the only three U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific Fleet were away from Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. The theory holds that the U.S. could keep its carriers while still having a justification for war.

However, it was only during the following year’s Battle of Midway when the value of aircraft carriers were understood. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Pacific fleet featured three times as many battleships as aircraft carriers.

Besides, the idea that the three carriers were kept ensconced by being away from the Harbor is mistaken. Each was alone at sea in an area known to be vulnerable to unfriendly elements .The Saratoga was making the long journey back from Seattle at the time of the attack. Meanwhile, the Enterprise and Lexington were ordered away from Pearl Harbor at separate times for reinforcing missions to Midway and Wake.  The Enterprise was scheduled to return by Dec. 5, at which time the Lexington would leave, so that at least one would be docked at Pearl Harbor at all times. The Lexington left on schedule, but bad weather kept the Enterprise at sea for two more days, one of those being Dec. 7.

Another theorist claim is that a Japanese midget submarine was spotted four hours before the attack, but was left alone. This is inaccurate. What really happened is that the USS Ward destroyer responded to the report, failed to find the submarine, but did locate and sink a second sub.

Conspiracy theorists are adaptable. While the failure to sink the first sub is considered evidence of a stand-down order, so too is the torpedoing of the second sub. With the latter incident, the assertion is that complicit U.S. officials wanted to hush the report of a lone sub so as to not alert American service members about the aerial onslaught about to commence.

However, as soon as Admiral Husband Kimmel, the Pacific Fleet Commander, heard about the sinking, he dispatched the USS Ward to the area to determine the submarine’s significance. But this was less than half an hour before the first bomb fell, so this mission led the destroyer into the invading enemy’s path. Had Kimmel been following stand-down orders, he would not have wanted the sinking investigated.

A third conspiracy theory point centers on the actions of 1st Lt. Kermit Tyler. Less than an hour before the attack, radar operators at Opana Point detected incoming Japanese aircraft and alerted Tyler, their supervisor. He failed to make any report of it, preferring to take his soldiers to breakfast. However, this misfortune was based on equipment shortcomings and inexperience.

According to Sketoid’s Brian Dunning, when operators detected incoming planes, the radar station was not yet fully operational and was, in fact, still being constructed. The Pearl Harbor Intercept Center on the Point was only partly activated. Further, it was staffed by those without training and the soldier manning the scope was using it for the first time. Meanwhile, Tyler was a fighter pilot, not a radar specialist, and was on just his second day at Opana Point. When underlings informed him of the inbound attackers, he assumed them to be U.S. B-17’s scheduled to arrive from the mainland, which is why his response focused on waffles instead of weapons.

Another point centers on U.S. intelligence expressing concern about just such an attack a year prior, yet still being unprepared for it. Indeed, in late 1940, Kimmel, wrote to his bosses in Washington that an attack “on Pearl Harbor is a possibility, and we are taking immediate practical steps to minimize the damage inflicted and to ensure that the attacking force will pay.” Then 10 days before the attack, Kimmel was ordered to a defensive deployment of the fleet.

Yet on the day that lives in infamy, service members were sleeping, ships were anchored in the Harbor, and most U.S. aircraft were in the open close together. All of these made for easy targets. Additionally, ships sunk in the harbor could be raised and repaired, whereas those lost at sea would not have this option. If wanting to be attacked but lessen the damage, this would be an avenue.

Also, U.S. cryptographers had broken Japan’s diplomatic code and were making progress on breaking its military code, giving American intelligence some access to Japanese secrets.  Putting all this together, it seems possible that U.S. leadership knew. However, that’s only if these facts are viewed in isolation. As we look closer at these points, the conspiracy angle falters.  

This was detailed in Henry Clausen’s book, Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement. In 1944, the Secretary of War ordered Clausen, then an Army lawyer, to investigate what happened in the months prior to the attack. He learned that the key to why the U.S. was unprepared was a lack of organization. With agencies acting independently and having no central oversight, decoded messages were more likely to be in a file drawer than in a military planning room.

Ten days after the attack, the Navy demoted Kimmel and removed him as Pacific Fleet commander. Conspiracy theorists consider this a scapegoating, insisting Kimmel was following stand-down orders from the Pentagon. However, U.S. action that fateful day resulted from Kimmel’s orders, not Washington D.C.’s

When Kimmel received the order to assume defensive positions on Nov. 27, 1941, the main threats were thought to be espionage and sabotage, not military attack. So Kimmel had aircraft move into the open and consolidate, which made for the best defense against infiltration.

The final point by theorists is that the war did indeed lift the U.S. out of the Depression and the economic boom lasted 15 years. The war also helped to cement Roosevelt’s fourth presidential election victory. However, this desire to connect unrelated dots is prevalent in conspiracy theory circles. Most large-scale tragedies are going to indirectly benefit some persons in some way. But that’s a separate issue from whether those persons orchestrated it.




“Crappy camper” (FEMA internment)


The idea that FEMA maintains a network of sprawling camps for the roundup of undesirables seems a garden variety conspiracy theory. But legal justifications for this to happen exist and it has precedence. Whether that means most of us a moment’s notice away from a Darkness at Noon existence courtesy Bilderberger henchmen is what we’ll look at today.

Considering the secrecy the supposed camps are allegedly shrouded in, they are conspicuous in their appearance and location. They are said to populate the likes of train yards, shipping ports, and former military installations, and sometimes feature a barbed wire or steel fence accoutrement.

If these are meant to house unwilling, innocent U.S. citizens, Brian Dunning of Skeptoid notes they have legal cover and it has happened before. Regarding precedent, there were World War II internment camps and the Obama administration executed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without trial.

As to the law, through a civil disturbance plan called “Garden Plot,” the Department of Defense asserts the right to assist local authorities during times of civil unrest. Authority for this stems from Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “Congress shall have power to provide for calling forth the militia, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.” Also, Title 10 of federal law authorizes the suppression of insurrections, rebellions, and domestic violence by executive order. Further, the Insurrection Act and Posse Comitatus Act, both of which put checks on these powers, have been curtailed Sept. 11, 2001. Meanwhile, the Patriot Act contains many nefarious, terrifying, and perhaps already-in-use clauses that may allow for the kidnapping and holding incommunicado of U.S. citizens. 

So any conspiracy theorist worried about government overreach needn’t make stuff up. The Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, CIA black sites, and a serial torture program run by the Chicago Police Department are proof of that. But theorists are generally not reading Seymour Hersch or exposés in The Atlantic. They don’t want mainstream media doing the exposing, they prefer their niche market with less-stringent evidence standards, smaller audiences, and feeling of being more in the know than the braindead masses.

For example, the CDC posts on its website a page outlining its ability and authority to detain an unlimited number of Americans without charge for any duration. But directing someone to a website where the government admits its plan doesn’t allow for self-congratulation, foreboding speculation, or the thrill of digging through the official story to get truth to fellow Woke People. So instead of sounding a call to action on the CDC policy, theorists instead give warnings about FEMA manning a “fully-staffed gassing/cremating death camp” overseen by “high level Illuminati Luciferians.”

Such scenarios take place in what I call an Eternal Tomorrow, which is prevalent in conspiracy circles. The roundup plans are always in their final stages, yet remain so for a decade. Any terrorist attack, high-level talk, or economic downturn can be labeled a ruse that will be the impetus to begin a wholesale detainment, enslavement, and genocide. Yet we never see the arrival of the initial truck or the first victim being hauled away. Still, it has to be always on the cusp of happening for the theorist to get excited. An investigative report that unearths a 150-year plan to bring this to fruition would get no traction in conspiracy circles.

If detainments begin, there will be plenty of places for housing the victims, as anything can be deemed a FEMA camp. For example, Wal-Mart or NFL stadiums are said to be ready to serve this purpose. Untold years at Wal-Mart, that’s got even me scared. Videos purporting to show other camp locations have turned out to be North Korean gulags, National Guard training centers, Amtrak repair shops, private company storage facilities, and medium and minimum security prisons.

While there are genuine FEMA facilities, they are usually mundane storage and temporary-housing locations, consistent with the agency’s mission of preparing to care for displaced persons

There are several YouTube videos purporting to show clandestine camps. Producers mosey up to these sites, record them, upload the imagery, narrate and distribute it, all without reprisal. That they can do this defeats their claim that they are exposing a heavily-fortified, armed-to-the-teeth, fully-staffed, death-camp-in-waiting, which an all-powerful government wants to keep secret.





“Fake no prisoners” (POWs still held)


Nearly every war has missing soldiers, but those who did not return from Vietnam are the subject of long-lasting rumor that they are still being held prisoner.

The rumor can serve multiple purposes. For loved ones, it is a means of holding out hope their friends and relatives are still alive. For those with a more jaded view, it is part of a conspiracy theory aimed at no-good commies and/or corrupt U.S. government officials.

When the war ended with the signing of Paris Peace Accords, the 591 known American POWs were released in exchange for a U.S. withdrawal. Besides this, there were 2,646 service members listed as missing in action. About 1,000 of those have since been accounted for, either through their remains being identified, or having been found alive in the U.S. or overseas.

The idea that some service members might still be held captive began after the fall of Saigon in the spring of 1975. Part of this was because U.S. investigators lacked access to the battlefields and sites of former POW camps. Around this time, a Vietnamese family moved into my neighborhood. They were part of the influx of refugees, some of whom brought with them tales of having seen Americans still in captivity.

But since the late 1980s, U.S. officials have had full access to battlefields and former POW locations, and Southeast Asian nations have cooperated, allowing Americans to maintain research offices in their countries. In these 30 years of increased joint action and investigations, no American POWs have been found in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos. The only missing service members to show up alive were those who deserted or otherwise were lost in military bureaucracy, and none of these had been held after the Accords signing.

According to a 1992 New York Times article, reports from refugees were investigated by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The majority of the sightings, however, were of Americans who returned in 1973. About sixteen sightings were unresolved. The article explains that, according to DIA officials, “Most of the unresolved cases may not be related to American prisoners of war because they describe individuals who were not under guard, but were with Vietnamese wives and families, or were walking freely in Saigon. They could be Soviet advisers or Western European Diplomats.”

War represents a stain on mankind, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese military engaged in barbarism, and POW camps in Vietnam were unconscionable violations of human rights. Further, many were buried deep in almost impenetrable jungles. With all this, it would seem not implausible that unscrupulous types could hold onto prisoners, for slavery, future bargaining, or simple cruelty. However, decades of sustained searching and investigation in periods of openness between former combatants have yielded nothing. The sites could have been moved, the cooperation could have been a ruse, but speculation like this is not the same as proof, which has never been forthcoming.

There have been far more detached-from-reality conspiracy theories than this one, but believers are still vulnerable to falling for a defining trait of conspiracy theories: The lack of evidence being seen as the evidence. To staunch believers, the lack of recovered, living POWs shows the extent and efficiency of the system that keeps them hidden.

Further, any documentation with contrary information is considered part of an governement cover-up. For example, according to Brian Dunning of Skeptoid, a Library of Congress website, POW/MIA Databases and Documents contains more than 150,000 declassified documents from the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office. This source allows a by-name search of MIAs and POWs, which will produce documents related to the searched individual. While this indicates transparency, a cynic would consider it a deflection meant to convince the gullible. In conspiracy theory parlance, it is merely a continuation of the official narrative.

Proving that there was never a single POW held past 1973 would be impossible, but it is not on the skeptics to disprove a point. Rather, we should examine the best available evidence without bias and follow Occam’s Razor and the conclusions to their logical ends. Between the aforementioned website, POW databases, and the continued unearthing of MIA remains, claims of surviving prisoners seems untenable.

As with Bigfoot, each year that goes by without a confirmation of U.S. prisoners being held is a sign of its increasing unlikelihood. We know some that some MIA soldiers died in combat, some deserted, and some assumed aliases. We cannot completely dismiss the idea that some of them were held after the war, perhaps even still today. But a thousand pieces of hearsay, speculation, and third-hand reports do not equal one solid piece of proof.



“Moon loon tune” (Lunar landing denial)


The 50th anniversary of the moon landing will be in 2019, but don’t expect a golden year from those who insist it was a hoax. After 49+ years, this bunch still resorts to long-disproven scenarios, while summarily dismissing any discomfiting evidence.

As to why NASA would pretend to go to the moon, deniers have speculated it could have been seen as a Cold War victory, that it distracted from the Vietnam War, or that it would ensure the space administration would continue being funded. While those all might have been consequences of a successful moonshot, that’s separate from it being proof the whole thing was staged. Using this line of thinking is to commit the affirming the consequent fallacy.

Since a sizable majority think we went to the moon and most who feel otherwise are incapable of being persuaded, why blog about it? Primarily because there may be a 12-year-old who is hearing denier points and refutations to them for the first time. Scientific knowledge is always one generation from extinction. Plus, addressing these points is a rejoinder to those who claim skeptics and scientists are the truly closed-minded and are mindless sheep who instinctively swallow what we are fed.

After the Apollo and Gemini launches, early flat Earthers Samuel Shenton and Charles Johnson responded with launches of their own, in the form of charging they were fabrications. This included an evidence-free assertion that Arthur C. Clarke directed, wrote, and produced the moon-landing script. This was updated to become Stanley Kubrick in another narrative. The latter assertion was initially a parody of the Clarke claim, but has come to be interpreted as serious by some deniers. This is similar to how some flat Earth folks are coming to believe there is no Finland or Australia, ideas that were written as satirical criticisms of flat Earthers. However, fashioning a Poe against these types is nearly impossible because it will come to be taken as true by those without the mental acumen to realize they are being mocked.

The question deniers have most difficulty answering is why NASA would fake five  subsequent landings. The moving pieces that would have to be seamlessly assembled for one successful hoax would be astronomical, and each further attempt would run further risk of getting caught. The return trips were interpreted by deniers as attempts to continue the momentum, while the fact that we haven’t been back since 1972 or set up moon colonies are said to be proof it was staged. So return trips and a lack thereof are both considered evidence of a hoax by the conspiracy theorist.

According to Sketoid’s Brian Dunning, 400,000 persons worked on the moon mission. Yet, all were able to overcome the desire for wealth that an exposé might bring. None were overcome with guilt, none let something slip in an unguarded moment, none got drunk enough to say something, none made a deathbed confession. Dunning further noted that 3,500 journalists investigated, researched, reported, and observed every second of Apollo 11 and were unable to uncover anything suggesting it was a charade. To a conspiracy theorist, that means another 3,500 persons were in on it. To everyone else, it’s more solid evidence of the moon launch and landing being authentic.

Now let’s plow through some of the denier points. One of the more frequently-parroted is that persons attempting to leave Earth’s orbit would be fried by the Van Allen belts. This is an example of what Dr. Steven Novella means when he says pseudoscientists and alternative medics use science like a drunk uses a lamppost: For support, not illumination.

The radiation belts have been discovered, understood, and explained by science. Moon landing deniers, a subset of pseudoscientists, use this discovery to try and score a point for their side, whereas they generally have a jaded view of science. Religious flat Earther Philip Stallings insists the Van Allen belts are another name for the firmament God set in place in Genesis. However, never has a scientific explanation been replaced by a religious one. Scientists did not discover, define, and explain the Van Allen Belts, only to be supplanted by those penning Genesis. Those religious writers did not discover errors in the original Van Allen belt research, leading to our understanding of the firmament. Rather, Genesis authors came up with what their eyes and their very limited knowledge of the natural world permitted. A few millennium later, science learned the truth. Still, Stallings claims that we cannot penetrate the firmament, which he thinks is the Van Allen belt, or that if we could, it would not be survivable.

They key here is that astronauts traveled thorough the belts in a rocket, not in an extended stay hotel. They made it through this high-radiation zone in an hour, only one percent of the the time necessary to start experiencing radiation sickness.

Another argument deniers try to make is that a loud rocket motor would make it impossible to hear astronaut voices. However, viewers could hear the communication with NASA because where the astronauts were, there was no air and therefore no sound. Secondly, the microphones were inside insulating helmets.

A third point deniers raise is that photos of the Lunar Module on the surface are missing a blast crater that presumably should have resulted from its landing. Of this, Dunning wrote, “When the Lunar Module came in to land, it came in with horizontal velocity as the pilot searched for a place to land. Once he found one, he descended, throttled back, and a probe extending over a meter below the landing pads touched the ground and shut off the rocket motor. It was only a very brief moment that the rocket nozzle was actually directed at the landing site, and only at reduced power.”

A similar point is that the Lunar Module’s landing rocket would have blasted all the dust away from the area, so any footprints would have been obliterated. However, there is no air on the moon and no resulting shockwaves. The powerful flames and swirling smoke associated with rocket launches happen because exhaust is being pushed into the air. With no wind or air in the equation, there is no consequent explosion.

The one claim so hackneyed that almost everyone has heard is that the U.S. flag is flapping in a supposedly-nonexistent breeze. This was caused by two factors. First, the flag was folded for the moon trip and the seeming rustling is actually just the creasing that resulted. Second, the apparent movement only happens when an astronaut is adjusting the pole.

Still another denier objection centers on photos of an astronaut that feature another moonwalker’s reflection in his helmet visor. This is supposedly crucial because neither astronaut has a camera to his face. However, this is because astronaut cameras were affixed to their spacesuit. Keeping with camera points, deniers say film would have melted in the 250-degree weather. However, Apollo astronauts used cameras and film specifically made for and insulated against such temperature extremes.

There were other still objections raised by deniers that I handled during this blog’s nascent days if one wishes to read more.

For years, deniers challenged NASA to provide photos of landing sites with vehicles left behind. In 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter provided just such proof. Two years later, the same craft produced clearer images. Like those who considered President Obama’s release of his long-term birth certificate to be MORE proof that he was Kenyan-born because of layers or the timing of the release or whatever, those who thought Armstrong and Aldrin never left orbit were even more convinced of this after the 2009 and 2011 images were made public. They were computer-generated or otherwise fabricated. They were not released in 1975 or 1985 because of technology limitations – not with satellites, but with PhotoShop. To a hardcore conspiracy theorist, any disproving evidence is part of the cover-up.

Besides these photos, a second key piece of evidence that the moon landing happened is the extensive monitoring of Apollo flights. Astronomers, academics, journalists, and excited amateurs all employed telescopes, radios, and radar to track the mission. This included enemies such as the Soviets. Observatories and hobbyists worldwide reported sightings of the Apollo spacecraft. Had the Apollo spacecraft remained in Earthly orbit, it would have been easy to spot even without a telescope.

Then there are the rocks brought back by astronauts. These rocks have been radiometrically dated as being nearly four and a half billion years old, more ancient than any naturally-occurring Earth rock. Dunning further noted, “The moon rocks have impact craters only a millimeter across, created by impacts from micrometeors traveling about 50,000 miles per hour. This is impossible on Earth because the atmosphere blocks them, and it can’t be faked because we don’t have anything that can accelerate small projectiles to that speed.”

What say you to all this, Philip Stallings? From his blog: “1969. That was the year you were told we went to the moon. Do you see anything suspicious about that number? Three 6’s.” I’m only seeing one six myself. Maybe the two nines got turned upside down when they hit the firmament.




“Plate histrionics” (Glyphosate fears)


There is a claim out there (way out there) that the weed killer glyphosate is present in food at unsafe levels. This claim appears in a work promoted by the likes of Food Democracy Now and Food Babe, not in peer reviewed journals. Still, in this forum, we place a premium on what is said, not who said it, so let’s examine the assertions. 

The publication endorsed by the aforementioned pair alleges that that studies have uncovered dangerous amounts of the herbicide glyphosate in our cabbage and Oreos, among many other edibles. The cover of this work shows a foreboding figure in a hazmat suit saturating future food with what is implied to be toxic levels of chemicals. Accompanying that image is a munching baby next to a spray bottle of Roundup, a Monsanto product which contains glyphosate.

If shouts of alarm ever accompany a scientific study, they should come from those hearing the results, not those giving them. When the latter happens, it is almost always a sign that the “research” was meant only to confirm a desired outcome and that the Scientific Method was skirted. Still, let’s look at what the report said, not its cover or who produced it, in order to make a critical analysis of it.

Michelle Miller of Ag Daily notes that the methods used in the studies make it impossible to distinguish glyphosate from similar chemical structures and may not even be able to differentiate it from water. She wrote, “To detect glyphosate…costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and is a very difficult, scientifically complex task.” The methods cited in these studies fail to meet those standards, though not as spectacularly as Zen Honeycutt’s $125 device meant to detect glyphosate levels.   

Another crucial point is how little glyphosate is spread over large farming areas. It’s just 22 ounces per acre, which would be equal to about two sodas sprinkled on a baseball diamond. Moreover, Miller reports that she sprays just two days a year and that’s done early in the growing season, before the edible part of the plant has emerged. Pointing out that the dose makes the poison, Miller adds that glyphosate is less toxic than baking soda.

Besides, the weed killer impacts enzymes found in plants and does not affect mammals, including humans. The only harm done to animals is when lab rats, mice, and fish are force fed outrageous amounts of it.

I’m all for studies as long as they follow established protocols, employ the Scientific Method, are replicable, and are peer reviewed. Along those lines, the Government Accountability Office once called on the FDA to monitor food for glyphosate residue. But the effort was halted due to a lack of agreement on testing protocols, equipment shortcomings, and the varying analysis methods at the different FDA laboratories.

Sensing a connection between the shuttered testing program and the experiments on overdosed rodents, Food Babe pounced: “Could it be that Monsanto didn’t like the results they started getting, especially since the FDA found glyphosate in foods that should be especially safe like BABY FOOD?”

Shouting something doesn’t make it more relevant and all caps won’t make it more accurate. Instead of providing evidence for the conspiracy she suggested, Food Babe let her followers assume it was true. She provided no examples of test results that Monsanto wouldn’t like, offered no audio recordings about keeping the findings hush-hush, and presented no independent lab experiments that revealed dangerous amounts of herbicide on our plates.

Another vacuous Food Babe claim is that multiple studies show that while probable harm to humans from glyphosate begins at one part per 10 billion, foods in the studies were found to have 1,000 times that. In truth, only one of the studies she listed provided support for that claim, and that one involved testing on mice. And even among vermin, the danger was considered potential instead of probable. Glyphosate, if it’s detectable on any food at all, is in nowhere close to a dangerous amount.

There are legitimate dietary concerns out there, but glyphosate residue is not among them. Alarmist, untrue charges, on the other hand, are much harder to stomach.

“No plane, no gain” (Pentagon attack)


Except for passing references when writing about conspiracy theories in general, I have never written about Sept. 11 truthers. For starters, it is one of the more hackneyed skeptic topics and so much has been written about it already.

Second, I’ve never understood what point the theorists were supposed to be making. Let’s allow that explosives brought down the twin towers. Where’s one piece of evidence that the devices were planted by Bush minions (or Israelis or Russians or Saddam henchmen, if favoring those alternatives to the alternative)? Perhaps bin Laden had his agents infiltrate the towers and hide explosives there as a backup in case the hijackings failed.

Third, I lack the technical knowledge to add anything to claims and counterclaims regarding building strengths, cut beams, how fires spread, and so on.

But after one of my passing references to truthers, I was challenged by a couple of them on what happened at the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Of course, it’s up to them to prove their claim; it’s not on me to disprove it. But in the spirit of generosity, I’ll examine some of what they say.

Islamic terrorists overpowered those aboard American Airlines Flight 77 and flew the hijacked plane into the Pentagon, killing 59 crew members and passengers, 125 military personnel, and the five perpetrators. Evidence for this includes communication between the airliner and air traffic control, phone calls from victims to those on the ground, and eyewitness accounts.

However, theorists dismiss what they call the “official story,” a term that carries no meaning and which is intended to disparage and cast doubt. There is no official story, merely a mainstream one. When the term is used, it is meant to suggest cover-up, tainted authorities, and a lie that enterprising conspiracy theorists must courageously break through and expose.

But such investigations are almost invariably threadbare in terms of actual, provable evidence. When theorists allegedly examine whether a particular mass shooting was fabricated, they fail to take even the rudimentary step of checking with the county clerk’s office where the tragedy took place to see if victims’ death certificates are on file. Another major problem with how they operate is that if such documentation is presented, it is considered to be part of the conspiracy. That also goes for any grieving family member, hospital worker, or reporter who corroborates the “official story.”  

Standards of evidence are so loose that one conspiracy website found it unusual that there would be a dozen reporters at the World Trade Center and Pentagon within minutes, even though that could be said of persons in most professions in cities that size. Additionally, most major news agencies have police scanners running 24-7 and reporters go to work each day ready to speed to the scene of breaking news.

There is overwhelming evidence that the Pentagon was hit by a hijacked airliner, but in an event that momentous, there are going to be a few anomalies and conspiracy theorists seize on these half dozen or so while ignoring the hundreds of pieces of proof that deviates from their narrative.   

This is not an attempt to wade through the muck of the multiple five-hour YouTube videos on the topic, but rather we will be hitting some of the lowlights.

Perhaps the most frequently-raised point is that security video showed a missile (or at least something that is not a 757) slamming into the Pentagon. There is only one frame showing a slender white streak approaching the building and then an explosion. Theorists assert the object is too small to be an airplane. Again, I’m unsure what this is meant to prove. Be it an airplane, missile, rocket, or unknown secret weapon, that still says nothing about who sent it barreling into the Pentagon.

But beyond that, there are reasons to reject the missile claim. Its apparent size was due not to object itself but what was capturing it. The security camera has an ultra-wide angle lens, which allows it to capture a wider area but which also distorts objects. It makes the Pentagon looked curved and this distortion is why the airplane appeared sleeker and narrower that what it was.

Onto the second point. The modus operandi of most theorists is to take two disparate facts and tie them together without seeing if there is a connection. One of the few times that I engaged a 9/11 truther, I raised my usual objection that even if explosives were smuggled into the World Trade Center, there was no evidence that the government did it. The totality of her response was that Marvin Bush was in charge of security for the Center on Sept. 11. This is where conspiracy theorists make their biggest error. They presume that any fact that might be consistent with their narrative constitutes evidence for it. Yes, if George W. Bush wanted to fly airplanes into the twin towers, having his brother in charge of security could conceivably aid in this, but that’s a long ways from meaning that this happened. She was content to throw out a fact, tie it to a wholly unsupported notion, then declare victory. She presented no conspirators coming forward, no video tape of the planning meeting, no unclassified documents, no purloined FBI or CIA letters, no forensic evidence of Bush DNA on explosives residue, and no criminal convictions from the deadliest crime in U.S. history.

Similarly, theorists make a big deal about Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s office being at the opposite end of the building from where the Pentagon was struck. Yes, if Rumsfeld plotted the attack, he may have taken steps to ensure his security. But by this logic, any military bigwig that wasn’t in the Pentagon that day could be tagged as a perpetrator. Or one could blame any Congressman or Senator since the Capitol was spared that day. Hell, just pin this one on Monsanto as well; after all, the company was completely unaffected.

Another frequent objection of theorists is that a 757 has a 125-foot wingspan, yet the hole it put in the Pentagon was barely half that size. Popular Mechanics tackled this issue and reported, “A crashing jet doesn’t punch a cartoon-like outline of itself into a reinforced concrete building. In this case, one wing hit the ground and the other was sheared off by the force of the impact with the Pentagon’s load-bearing columns.” This is consistent with what was seen by eyewitnesses, including USA Today eyewitness Mike Walter. There are dozens of such witnesses, compared to zero who report having seen a missile.

The three points we’ve examined so far were at least based, very tenuously, on things that were true: The image looked too narrow to be a plane, the hole it left was 75 feet wide, and it plowed into the part of the building that was away from where Rumsfeld worked. But now we look at claims that are 100 percent false, beginning with the insistence that there were no airplane parts on the ground.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning examined this claim and he found that even a rudimentary search showed this to be wholly in error. He wrote, “Debris from the plane was everywhere, including easily identified mechanical parts from the landing gear and engines and lots of twisted aluminum painted in Boeing BAC452 Green Epoxy Primer.” Further, wreckage was reported by Pentagon employees, rescue personnel, and reporters, and was even seen on live reports of the event.

Beyond this, there are transcripts of conversations between air traffic controllers and those onboard, in addition to graphs from the flight data recorder which show the plane’s descending altitude. Another falsehood is the claim that this descent would be impossible for a full-sized passenger plane. But this requires ignoring the graph data, calls from passengers to family members, eyewitnesses, and fight transcripts. Refuting all this, at least in the theorists’ bug-eyes, is one seeming anomaly, that of a Dulles air traffic controller saying, “You don’t fly a 757 in that manner.” Conspiracy theorists often cite this comment as evidence that the controllers knew it was not a 757.

But this misrepresents what the controller, Danielle O’Brien, said in totality. The full quote was, “All of us experienced air traffic controllers thought that it was a military plane. You don’t fly a 757 in that manner. It’s unsafe.” She wasn’t asserting that a 757 was incapable of flying in the manner she was observing. Rather, she was saying it would be dangerous to do so. And obviously, flying the aircraft in a dangerous manner is what the hijackers intended.

Another fabrication is that Pentagon missiles would have shot down any approaching kamikaze aircraft. But this missile defense system exists only in the mind of author Thierry Meyssan, who referenced it in his book 9/11: The Big Lie. Dunning wrote, “If such a defense system existed but was not used and not a single Pentagon employee complained about it. Even the friends of the 125 employees killed raised no objection. None of the hundreds of thousands of photographs and videos of the Pentagon show a missile defense system, nor do the blueprints nor construction photographs. No one has ever worked there has reported knowledge of such a thing.”

There are also logistical considerations. The Pentagon is situated very close to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Planes landing at the airport fly over the Pentagon at low altitude and two of its runways are barely half a mile from the Pentagon. Any missile defense system would have no time to react if a rouge airliner came its way. And again, even if there was a missile defense system, theorists have given us no evidence as to who it should have been aimed at.