“Skies and lies” (LUCIFER telescope)


The Catholic Church has a sordid history with science, from its maltreatment of Galileo and Giordano Bruno to today’s geocentric seminars headed by Robert Sungenis and the rest of the gang at Catholic Apologetics International.

But according to one conspiracy theory, the Church has embraced the science of astronomy, albeit for malevolent purposes. The hypothesis holds that Rome employs a telescope whose aim is to find aliens that will help the Pope and his minions subdue all Earthlings. The one-sixth of world’s population that the Vatican already lords over is apparently insufficient. The telescope is named LUCIFER, put in all caps as if the name by itself wasn’t enough of a giveaway.

Like the weather-control theory that centers on another all-cap evil, HAARP, the LUCIFER theory takes a few unrelated facts that are true in isolation, then adds massive untruths and eventually arrives at an untenable, easily-disproved conclusion.

The Catholic Church does have a history of dabbling in astronomy. In the 16th Century, it looked to the skies to ensure that Easter was being observed at the correct time. And they do maintain the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) at an international facility in Arizona.

It is the nearby Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) that theorists insist the Catholic Church is using to arrange an apocalyptic rendezvous with E.T.  But the Vatican has no connection to the LBT, which actually refers to two side-by-side telescopes. A pair of instruments that do infrared spectroscopy in conjunction with the telescopes are dubbed LUCI1 and LUCI2. LUCI stands for “LBT Utility Camera in the Infrared,” and these spectroscopic measurement tools were built by a German consortium that has no relation to the Vatican.

The LUCI instruments serve as the source for the name LUCIFER. They were originally named this as a tongue-in-cheek, not-quite-acronym for the beyond-wordy “Large Binocular Telescope Near-infrared Spectroscopic Utility with Camera and Integral Field Unit for Extragalactic Research.”

Beyond the issue of which telescope the Vatican operates is the matter of what the instrument’s capabilities are. Let’s consider the process in reverse. If a search for alien life were undertaken by exoplanet beings who honed in on Earth, these creatures would notice a red edge created by chlorophyll. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning explains that chlorophyll “creates a very obvious jump in the spectrum right around the 700 nanometer wavelength. At the red end of the visible spectrum, chlorophyll appears almost totally black, but then at slightly longer wavelengths in the infrared, it becomes virtually transparent. We call this sudden cliff in the spectrum the ‘red edge.’”

However, even if such an edge were to emanate from an exoplanet, no telescopes owned by the Catholic Church or any other Earthly entity are powerful enough to see it.

In summary: There has never been a telescope called LUCIFER; The LUCI instruments are non-telescopes with no relation to the Vatican; no optical telescopes on Earth are capable of detecting evidence of alien civilizations; and the VATT and LBT telescopes are unconnected and housed in separate locations.

The theory which rejects all those truths stems from the creative minds of evangelicals Tom Horn and Cris Putnam. They outlined their notions of a Rome-Ming alliance in a book with the bewildering title, Exo-Vaticana: Petrus Romanus, Project L.U.C.I.F.E.R. and the Vatican’s Astonishing Plan for the Arrival of an Alien Savior. In this work, the crusading Christian duo claim the Catholic Church plans to recruit a savior from outer space and establish him/her/it as the leader of a New World Order. The book also includes a failed prophecy that this alien’s home planet would be revealed by astronomers in 2013. Additionally, there is the impossible-to-disprove assertion that the telescope’s location serves as an interdimensional portal through which aliens come to and fro Earth.

Another claim, again without evidence but again impossible to disprove, is that the giants referenced in Genesis 6 are demons with whom the Catholic Church is attempting to channel to help with this conquest. Rome’s plan is to unite all mankind under the Pope, peaceably at first, and then by force using this conscripted demon/alien army.

While Horn and Putnam attempt a 21st Century sci-fi twist on their anti-Catholic bigotry, they are tapping into what was once a common theme among evangelicals: That Catholics are confused Christians at best and Satan’s soldiers at worst. Those ideas have largely faded as the line between church and state has become increasingly blurred. We have reached a point where it is de riguer for Republican presidential candidates to declare that God told them to run, while conservative Christians conflate equality with persecution whenever they are asked to follow the same laws and rules as everyone else.

Growing a base this powerful and entitled would have failed if its leaders had continued to shun the country’s 50 million Catholics. This switch has transformed what had once been the robust anti-Catholic industry into a niche market, and books and videos by the likes of Horn and Putnam are reserved for obscure corners of the publishing and online worlds. If only that could be the fate for ​99 44100  percent of  conspiracy theories. 

“On Q” (Q Anon)


The QAnon phenomenon reverses the usual conspiracy theory mindset. This time, it’s the man on top who is the heroic victim and those out of power who are planning his demise. To ward against this, the president hunts those who belong to the “deep state,” a term so broad and vague that any disliked person can be labeled a member.

According to Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning, QAnon “began as a few random and childishly implausible posts on an obscure Internet message board” and “has grown into a very serious political movement.”

Q was only one of several anons – short for anonymous posters – who leveled libelous accusations at Hilary Clinton and other Democrats during the 2016 campaign and thereafter. Besides the charges, there were promises that Clinton and her cronies were destined for prison, Guantanamo Bay, or CIA black sites once Trump was in power. The posters claimed secret, elite knowledge owing to their high government positions. To state the obvious, none of the supposed promises have been fulfilled.  

While QAnon is almost certainly fabricates his/her/their position, Q clearances do exist, and are the highest classification in the Department of Energy. It’s like Top Secret with a less cool descriptor.

The QAnon theory makes the usual warmongering and corruption charges against its enemies, but also accuses them of a novel insidiousness: A global child trafficking sex ring. These accusations are bolstered by breathless memes sounding the alarm about 800,000 children going missing each year.  The implied message assumes that all these youngsters have been abducted by this roving band of Satanic pedophiles who vote Blue. 

But while the number of missing children does tally about 800,000 a year, the overwhelming majority of these boys and girls are found safe. Further, those who are abducted have usually been taken by a noncustodial parent. There are also kidnappings perpetrated by those who have gained the family trust. Finally, in the least populated-category, are those who have been taken by strangers. And among those who pull off that despicable crime, none have been proven to be fueling a pedophile ring to satisfy liberal elites. There has never been a conviction associated with these supposed abductions, and never in a courtroom have we learned the name of a perpetrator, victim, or recipient. If there is a Satanic child-sex trafficking ring being run, the number of victims wouldn’t even number in the 10s, much less hundreds of thousands.

As to the person whose writings have stoked these ideas, there has been speculation that it is a Russian, a left-wing troll, or a right-winger trying to keep things stirred up and maintain a focus on defeating the Democrats. Or it could just be someone getting their kicks. What he/she/they almost certainly is not is a career government worker with the highest clearance who continually has access to the juiciest tidbits.

The NSA, CIA, and FBI have vast tools to root out such moles and that a person could elude this for four years strains credulity. One trick is to let a piece of putative information fall into the hands of the suspect – who thinks everyone with clearance has received it, when only he has – and then when  he releases it, is busted. Beyond this, there are bugs and surveillance, and all manner of high-tech gizmos to find the culprit, especially with such a small pool of potential suspects, limited to those with the highest Energy Department clearance. 

This person would be risking that clearance, along with their career and freedom, and would be taking actions wholly unbecoming of someone who had achieved this level clearance. Such persons would be highly unlikely to continually post highly-classified information for all to see. 

Not everyone shares my skepticism. Dunning wrote that dozens of Congressional candidates have voiced support for the theory. One of the most fervent believers took a rifle into a pizza joint, trying to find a non-existent basement housing non-existent child trafficking victims. Another adherent blocked the Hoover Dam with an armored van in order to demand the release of information he believed Q had revealed. At least one murder has been committed by a QAnon supporter acting on his belief, while authorities thwarted a kidnapping attempt by still another deranged fan. Untold death threats have been lobbed at those who type disbelieving words such as these.

Still, there is a person or persons writing all this. QAnon writes in code, though that is hardly necessary when addressing an audience that sees pedophile messages in pizza and Wayfair ads.

“Chip shot” (Bill Gates and coronavirus)


In a Yahoo News/YouGov poll, three out of five U.S. adults were at least open to the possibility that Bill Gates plans to use any COVID-19 vaccine as an avenue to implant microchips in people and track us – as opposed to just using the device in their pocket that they answered the survey with to do it.  

To state what should be obvious, the technology to track people via a vaccine is nonexistent. Writing for Slate, June Hu noted that while there are injectable microchips, they are incapable of tacking the recipient. Our husky periodically escapes and when she ends up with an animal control officer or veterinarian, her implanted microchip lets the person who found our wayward hound know what my telephone number is. But neither I nor anyone else can use the chip to locate where she is.

In order to track a dog, human, or cyborg, the person desiring to do so would need to receive information from a source, such as a cell tower. This would further necessitate that the chip house a battery, which in turn would need a way of being recharged. And even if this technology existed, the required chip type could not be delivered by way of syringe.

Since the supposed plot is impossible, where did they idea that anyone want to implement it stem from? Billy Binion touched on this is as essay for Reason. While there are multiple versions, the most popular holds that Gates not only wants to chip us with a vaccine, but that he created the virus to make this eventuality possible.

This may be because of TED Talk Gates he delivered in 2015, during which he warned about the dangers of being unprepared for pandemics. This was hardly a shocking revelation, as it was true 10, 100, and 1000 years ago,  and will continued to be true until science finds a panacea and the anti-vax movement withers completely.

Still, to a paranoid conspiracy theorist – perhaps a redundant phase – this was evidence that Gates had caused the coronavirus. To be clear, they hold that an evil that will be clandestinely unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace was publicly announced by the one committing it.

That he is backing COVID-19 vaccine research is seen not as altruism but as a means of funding his nefarious agenda. Some attempt to bolster this belief by citing Revelation and its references to the Mark of the Beast, with the chip being the item that one must have to buy or sell. 

Bunion speculates that the idea may have stemmed from a substantial misreading of what Gates said about keeping accurate numbers on how many patients had recovered from the virus once a vaccine is discovered. He said. “Eventually we will have some digital certificates to show who has recovered.”

How this discussion of possibly having digital records of recovered COIVD patients morphed into a mandatory surveillance-enabling microchip is left unexplained by the theorists.




“? and the Contrarians” (Just asking questions)


The most hardened conspiracy theorists make reckless, baseless accusations based on wild conjecture that represent the most extreme examples of begging the question, which is when one assumes their premise to be true without offering supporting proofs.

Then there is a less-stringent type of theorist who paints themselves as being merely curious or skeptical. And if that’s what a person is genuinely being, fine. Good, even. But asking questions can be different than seeking answers. The latter may involve genuine research and querying sites and sources one holds in low regard. Most importantly, it means being willing to arrive at a different conclusion than what you might wish for.

This week, I saw an offensive and absurd meme which insists that the George Floyd tragedy was staged. The “evidence” is an assertion that the officer is resting the bulk of his weight on his free knee and that the police license plate has no numbers or letters other than “POLICE” in large characters across the breadth of the plate.

The answers to these issues could be found by seeking out physiologists or the Minnesota DMV. But those making such assertions make no such attempts. They merely pronounce victory over the brainwashed sheep and ignore any evidence that would come out during trials or investigations and assume an impossibly-large stable of crisis actors to pull off the ruse.

If an answer were to be offered, those posting such memes would reject the response, regardless of the science, the evidence, or the credentials of the speaker. We are nearly two decades removed from 9/11 and some people are still “just asking questions” about melting steel beams or how a passport could avoid incineration. These types portray themselves as open-minded and, by default, anyone who disagrees with this approach to be closed-minded. After all, who could be against examining and “just asking questions”?

But again, people who use this phrase are generally not actually just asking questions. Rather, they are disingenuously phrasing a hardened belief as a question while trying to maintain a façade of being reasonable and open to truth.

An anonymous Logic of Science blogger wrote, “Good questions stem naturally from known facts and evidence. In other words, they have a basis in reality.” Bad questions, such as those related to the Floyd tragedy, are without evidence and just unfettered conjecture being crammed into a predetermined narrative.

The blogger demonstrated the difference between a genuine question and one which only aims to make the speaker seem curious. He used an example from his field of herpetology. Regarding why aquatic turtles emerge from water to bask on rocks and logs, there have been suggestions that this action might be related to temperature, immune functions, or parasite cleanings.

“All of these are good questions…based on our existing knowledge of biology,” he wrote. But suppose someone ambles along and posits that maybe the shelled creatures are seeking escape from interplanetary interlopers who have invaded their lake.

“That would be a bad question, because it’s not based on any known facts. There is no reason to think that aliens are involved, and we’d need good evidence of the presence of aliens before it would be rational to even consider the possibility that they are involved.”

Indeed. Yet the conspiracy theorist response such dismissals is to declare the other person to be in on the plot, scared of the truth, or trying to hide something.

But since there is no rationale for thinking aliens are chasing turtles or that Floyd and his murderer are props in a ruse, these ideas can be discounted out of hand. Christopher Hitchens nailed this one when he declared, “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

So wondering how COVID-19 came to be is a natural thought and could even be the first step in the Scientific Method of trying to find a cure.

However, asking, “Did Bill Gates orchestrate the coronavirus so that he could microchip us all” is a poor question. There is no evidence to suggest Gates devised the virus or wants to use the resulting vaccine to track our movements. Persons arrive at such conclusions by taking a circuitous route of cherry picking disparate points and ignoring the Law of Truly Large Numbers.

The “just asking questions” crowd rarely issues interrogative statements in good faith or seeks genuine dialogue. Anyone who asks if Bill Gates is going to microchip us via a future vaccine has already answered their own question.

There is nothing wrong with asking a question if one will examine the evidence and accept where it leads, but too often that’s not the case. I have presented strong evidence to the contrary when persons have asked if HAARP is controlling the weather. The response was not to thank me for the enlightenment, but rather a galvanizing of their beliefs. They were “just asking questions” based on those beliefs, not on wanting to know.

“Home evasion” (Social distancing and the immune system)


There are many conspiracy theories centered on the coronavirus. Some of these would seem mutually exclusive but all are still bandied about by believers. For example, the suspicion that China developed it as a bioweapon is at odds with the idea that COVID-19 is mostly innocuous and being greatly overblown by leftists hoping to wreck the economy. Harmless chemical warfare does seem a tad contradictory. Yet this position, at least when broken into two separate charges, is a regular feature of the conspiracy crowd, whose members make appearances on my news feed with annoying regularity.

While there are many COVID conspiracy theories, our focus today is the narrow idea that being mostly homebound damages our immune system. In short, proponents feel that social distancing harms, not helps, the situation. Similar attempts to invert the normal order pop up frequently among conspiracy theorists: Excess carbon dioxide is good for the environment; insulin causes diabetes; vaccines are worse than what they prevent.

In Mother Jones, Keira Butler wrote of three persons who have posted claims about the putative immune system damage that social distancing is causing. She referenced two physicians and one engineer, who made separate videos outlining their positions.

It is telling that these claims were pitched to a sympathetic audience on YouTube and not submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Alas, we will still assess the legitimacy of their assertions, not where they aired them.

The gist of their argument is that the lockdown is harming the immune system. They base this on the notion that germs and disinfectants are in constant battle, both evolving and adapting as they try to get the upper microscopic hand. Without exposure to enough germs, the trio argue, the immune system may grow lax and put up too feeble a fight. In some cases, there is merit to this idea, which is why some immunologists argue against trying to develop ultra-germ killers since it opens the chance that the germs which survive will further adapt and form a superbug, which is impervious to all treatments.

But this does not apply here since COVID-19 is not a chronic immune condition, but rather a novel virus that attacks the afflicted in ways immunologists don’t fully understand. As a novel virus, our immune system has no defense in place for it.

Moreover, isolated persons are still exposed to germs at home, which is another strike against the notion.

Social distancing helps to slow the spread of the virus and the anti-lockdown fervor, which is based not on the rate of infection or any projections, but on livid persons wanting a haircut and dine-in pizza, figures to be a public health disaster.

I miss the park, PTA meetings, and arcades, but not more than I value the health of my children, myself, and everyone else. A nationwide commitment to social distancing and pursuit of a vaccine would have solved this problem.

But selfishness and the ignoring of science are winning. A virus has no idea nor concern if its host is a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or independent, so this should have been the ultimate non-partisan issue. Instead, it is highly divisive and shows how dangerously close to the mainstream anti-science tropes and conspiracy theories are becoming.

Rather than isolation and inoculations, the other side embraces the naturalistic fallacy, where it is assumed that whatever is natural is good and whatever is artificial is bad. Butler cited one error-laden anti-vax group post, which claimed that masks, gloves, vaccines, and synthetic soap damage the immune system. This is another example a topsy-turvy belief where the prevention is labeled as the cause. They also claimed that fear damages the immune system. There is no truth to this, a good thing for the bazooka-toting Subway patron.





“A lot of nonsense” (Empty hospitals)


Proponents of medical conspiracy theories frequently exhort detractors to “do their research.”

By this, of course, they don’t mean earn a master’s in a related field, conduct original testing, give presentations to experts in the field, and submit findings for peer review. They mean spending two hours on Google or YouTube, watching videos that eschew the Scientific Method entirely, have been carefully filtered to include only items that agree with the pre-determined conclusion, and which dismiss all contrary evidence as more proof of the conspiracy.

Now, theorists have coopted another term and are mangling it to fit their agenda. They label “investigative journalists” those who tote video cameras into mostly empty hospital parking lots, and present this as evidence that COVID-19 is a total hoax or at least massively overblown.

There are a few reasons why the number of cars and trucks present is a poor vehicle, so to speak, for deducing the seriousness of a virus.

First, there are more than 5,000 hospitals in the United States, and about .1 percent of them have been hard hit by the coronavirus. If doing a story on the virus’ spread, it is logical that news media would focus on those hospitals and not those which only had one or two cases. Skeptic leader Benjamin Radford noted that stories which make the national news are seldom ones that are indicative of what the entire country is experiencing.

There are virus hotspots since the spread of COVID-19 varies widely by region and population center. It would be expected that some hospitals would be overwhelmed, some would have moderate impacts, and others be barely affected.

A second factor is that fewer people are going to the hospital because of reduced budgets and staffing. Radford wrote, “Most hospitals make half or more of their revenue from elective procedures, which have been put on hold.”

He continued, noting that this now sometimes includes even serious matters: “A survey of nine major hospitals showed the number of severe heart attacks being treated in U.S hospitals had dropped by nearly 40 percent since the novel coronavirus took hold in March. Patients are so afraid to enter hospitals that they are dying at home or waiting so long to seek care that they’re going to suffer massive damage to their hearts or brains.”

No visitors are allowed and fewer medical personnel and prospective patients are showing up at hospitals, hence less vehicles.

None of the “investigative journalists” brought up these points or asked questions of anyone, be they hospital employees or an outside medical expert. They have no journalism degree, experience, or training. They merely posted videos of themselves walking around a parking lot, drew unsubstantiated conclusions about what it meant, and hit ‘upload.’ If that’s journalism, my drive to Dollar Tree makes me a NASCAR champion.

“Eyeful Tower” (5G)


For a few years now, baseless fears about cell phone technology causing brain cancer have been a conspiracy theory staple. This, even though the metadata of reputable studies shows there to be no harm to humans from radiofrequency radiation. A New York Times article noted that while cell phone use has exploded exponentially in the last 30 years, there has been no corresponding skyrocketing of glioma in that time.

This is to be expected, as cell phones and towers emit non-ionizing radiation, which rests on the safe side, by a comfortable margin, of the electromagnetic spectrum. Dr. Steven Novella wrote that 5G and other wireless communications technologies operate at too low a frequency and energy level to cause tissue damage. “It is too low power to break chemical bonds,” he explained. “The computer screen you are looking at right now is bathing you is much more powerful and higher frequency EM radiation than any 5G network.”

 By contrast, ionizing radiation is harmful since it can damage DNA and kill cells, possibly leading to cancer. But saying that 5G can spur rogue cell growth because, like X-rays it is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, is to commit the composition fallacy. It makes no more sense than thinking 5G could be used to get an inner look at our bones.

A graph touted by believers in wireless communication nefariousness shows that tissue injury becomes more pronounced as radio wave frequency escalates. But according to William Broad in Scientific American, the graph fails to consider the shielding capabilities of human skin. He wrote, “Radio waves become safer at higher frequencies, not more dangerous. At higher radio frequencies, the skin acts as a barrier, shielding the brain from exposure.”

With that out of the way, the anti-5G throng has switched its focus to the coronavirus and insist that 5G towers are spreading the respiratory tract infection. In most cases, this is considered an intentional act by a malevolent cabal. They even consider stay-at-home orders to be a plot to keep people from seeing the towers being constructed.

Proponents note in harrowing tones that 5G networks began appearing regularly in late 2019, the same time that coronavirus started spreading. Further, Italy, China, and South Korea are all at the forefront of this emerging technology and have all been coronavirus hot spots. This is textbook post hoc reasoning, wrapped in a self-righteous bow. It also represents extreme cherry-picking since it ignores that nearly every country has had a coronavirus case, while most nations have yet to employ 5G technology.

Advocates also tout a map of COVID-19 clusters and compare those areas with places that recently tested 5G technology. While the overlap is substantial, this is again a correlation-causation error. The overlapped areas were merely major U.S. cities

On April 1, one QAnon theory, which would have been considered an April Fools prank were it not for the source, warned that we were at the beginning of a 10-day stretch where electricity and the Internet would be unavailable anywhere. In the midst of this confusion, the 5G/coronavirus brigade would amp up its invasion and implement mass slaughter. The end date has arrived and we are still here. In classic doomsday mindset, believers have doubled down and are either promising that an even-worse demise is being plotted, or are claiming that calamity has been averted because brave citizen journalists exposed the plan.

People drawn to such conspiracy theories prefer the element of control they seem to offer. Believing that he or she has access to hidden information, and is more clever than the brainwashed sheep, gives the conspiracy theorist comfort.

China and Bill Gates are often cited by theorists as being behind the spread. These are both extremely powerful entities with vast resources and the idea of one or both of them coming after us and our loved ones is terrifying. So theorists seek solace in the idea of exposing them and readying for battle.

The truth, readily available to anyone who wants it, is that scientists have sequenced COVID-19’s genome and have traced its evolutionary path from other coronaviruses and they understand how this mutation transferred from animal to human. It shows none of the markers of genetic engineering. And as Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted, if the virus is an engineered bioweapon, it is remarkably inefficient. It has killed three percent of its victims, 15 times less than most bioweapons.

Further, there has been no scenario put forth from theorists as to why low electromagnetic radiation would cause a virus characterized by fever, dry coughs, and respiratory tract infections.

Those who most fervently deny this reality have taken their belief to disturbing heights. This has included the burning down of 5G towers and the intentional derailing of a train in an attempt to crash it into a military ship that had been enlisted in the COVID-19 fight. Put another way, believing in such a theory can be a worse evil than what the conspiracy is supposed to be bringing.  



“Back to the wall” (Amber Room)


Commies, Nazis, and Indiana Jones wannabes all play roles in the long, captivating, dispiriting history of the Amber Room. The room was an extremely opulent portion of the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg  its highly-ornate walls were worth untold millions, as was the artwork which hung on it. It featured bright gilded panels imbued with gold and amber, as well as gold leaf and mirrors and esthetically arranged.

It was the pride of the Romanov Dynasty and then the Soviet Union until invading German soldiers took possession of it. While trying to move the room, the Nazis found it too brittle to be safely disassembled. Anatoly Kuchumov could have told them that. He served as a Soviet curator and he discovered how fragile the pieces were when he tried to move the invaluable collection into hiding. He settled for building false walls to cover the amber panels but the impromptu gamble failed and the German soldiers took apart he walls and packed it into crates. They sent it to Königsberg Castle, which was razed after the arrival of Brits and Soviets, with the latter burning the building completely.

Kuchumov recovered three Florentine stone mosaics, which were the only inflammable portions of the Amber Room. More than three decades later, German citizen Hans Achterman saw a documentary about the room and he recognized the stone mosaics as something identical to an item in his parents’ attic. His father had been one of the soldiers who had dismantled the room and he stole the mosaic and kept it as a souvenir. This find stoked a batch of conspiracy theories and wild claims about other parts of the room still being hidden or otherwise waiting to be found.

Some proponents believe the room’s contents were packed into crates and moved before the Red Army got to Königsberg. Others maintain they were put on a ship which sank. Other ideas are that it is being held in mine shafts or an abandoned warehouse.

Investigative journalists Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy addressed all this and much more in their work, The Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure. They interviewed former intelligence officers, government officials, retired military, and curators. They concluded that, “The Soviet Union, while wanting to be seen to search for the Amber Room, was also determined that nothing should be found.”

That’s because the USSR’s leaders knew their soldiers had destroyed the Amber Room but wanted to keep the idea it still existed as a bargaining chip. So when looted German artwork is mentioned, the Soviets retort that Amber Room also went missing.

The Soviet official with the most vested interest in the destruction’s cover-up was Kuchumov. He nervously watched as his former museum colleagues were shipped to Siberia for failing to protect treasures from the Nazis, and none of those valuables were worth what Kuchumov oversaw.

He spent several years in charge of a commission whose ostensible mission was to unearth the Amber Room. But it was all a sham and Kuchumov was an “acting chairman” in the most literal sense. The commission’s actual purpose was for Kuchumov to keep his freedom by maintaining an illusion that Amber Room valuables were still out there waiting to be found. The longer it stays hidden, the more the legend grows.

“Plane truth” (Malaysian Airlines flight MH370)


On March 8, 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Its final appearances were some unexpected cameos on radar and satellite data. About 40 minutes after departure, the Boeing 777 signed off from Kuala Lumpur air traffic control over the South China Sea.

Minutes after signing off, the pilots made a U-turn back toward Malaysia. The plane was equipped with an ACARS system which periodically transmits maintenance data, and the system was inoperable after the U-turn.

Later, a right turn was made and the military radar detected the craft west of Thailand. The final contact, between an Inmarsat satellite and the aircraft’s automated satellite data unit, located the plane as having been in the Indian Ocean west of Australia. That is about when the plane’s fuel would have run out. Search and rescue teams were unsuccessful, though conspiracy theorists enjoyed  more fruitful days.

Plausible ideas such as a hijacking or pilot suicide were aired. But hijackers want something in return or, in the case of 9/11, aim to commit a very public atrocity. Neither of those things happened. As to the latter idea, Captain Zaharie Ahmad had recently separated from his wife and a flight simulator game at his home had some unusual Indian Ocean landings on it. But that’s hardly enough to (reasonably) deduce he committed a mass murder/suicide.

Some have pondered about North Korean involvement. There are two competing narratives here: One has Kim Jong Un lackeys hijacking the plane in order to reverse engineer it; the other paints North Koreans as the victims, with the 777 carrying a nuclear weapon meant to take aim at Pyongyang. This idea was reminiscent of suspicion that the downed KAL 007 airliner in 1983 had been on a spy mission. However, there is no satellite or radar data suggesting the Malaysian airliner was ever on a route to North Korea.

Keeping with the theme of vile eastern dictators, another hypothesis implicates Vladimir Putin. In this tale, a cutting-edge Russian spy satellite detected the Malaysian airliner plummeting into the Bay of Bengal. However the Russians kept quiet about it in order to not reveal it had this new technology. How anyone in the West knows this, since it contradicts the narrative it’s trying to promote, is unclear.

Another Putin-related claim was that the vanishing came after the US had imposed sanctions against Russia, so Putin arranged for hijackers to divert the plane to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Besides being post hoc reasoning and lacking all evidence, this proposal fails to explain how a Malaysian airliner being sent to Kazakhstan would harm the United States.

The most far-out explanations include the airliner making its way to an alternate dimension or being caught in a time warp a la Manifest

While the disappearance remains a mystery, a reasonable answer has been suggested by members of the Air Line Pilots Association. What follows is a succinct version of the theory.

First, since the airliner’s automated communications stopped, this may indicate the ACARS system had been damaged. Second, an emergency locator beacon was never triggered while within range of ground personnel who could have heard it. This suggests that whatever doomed the plane took place over several minutes and was not an instantaneous catastrophe. Third, it seems probable that the pilots became incapacitated. All three of these occurrences could be explained by smoke.

Members of the association agree their initial action when smelling smoke would be to turn off all unnecessary electronics, to include radios. This would explain the ACARS no longer transmitting, and would also explicate the lack of communication from the airplane to traffic control. As to the emergency locator beacon, pilots cannot switch it off, and besides, there would not necessarily been anything to trigger it.

If the smoldering got pronounced enough, carbon monoxide or smoke inhalation could have rendered the pilots incapacitated. As to why they wouldn’t have responded with a Hollywood “Mayday!” moment, no one in air traffic control can help with a smoky cockpit. Pilots follow a guideline of, “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate” – in that order.

The reconstructed flight path that we now know the plane followed is consistent with the association’s recommendations of what backup airports the pilots would have chosen. And when debris from a Boeing 777 did begin to appear more than a year later, it was all consistent with the notion of a crash in the ocean west of Australia.   

“Cosmo’s Fear Factory” (Doomed cosmonauts)


The Space Race is one of the great tales in human history, replete with drama, competition, personalities, ingenuity, setbacks, heroes, perseverance, and pride. But some consider it to have a frightening sidebar, with some Soviet spacefarers said to have been aboard a doomed vessel that veered off course and into space, where they met a horrific and terrifying death.

The story of doomed cosmonauts stems from the extensive logs and audio recordings of two radio operators, the Italian brothers Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia. The polyglot pair, who taught themselves to speak Russian, recorded and documented the space race more thoroughly than any other amateurs. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning described their space race collection as “by far the most comprehensive private collection known.” They began their documentation and archiving with the Sputnik I launch and kept at it inexhaustibly for the few years.

They even converted a World War II bunker into a radio observatory.
According to Dunning, the pair taught themselves how to detect the Doppler Effect in signals from orbit and then use that calculation to determine a spacecraft’s speed and altitude. They were so efficient that by the time the Soviets launched Sputnik 2, the brothers had assembled equipment that enabled them to hear the heartbeat of the dog on board.

The disconcerting turn came in November 1960 when the brothers detected, from a Soviet space frequency, a continual relaying of “S-O-S.” Doppler calculations showed almost no relative speed, causing the duo to suspect that the spacecraft was on a course heading away from Earth. The signal grew progressively weaker until vanishing forever. It seemed that a manned Soviet spacecraft had permanently left Earth’s orbit.

Three months later, the brothers picked up another space transmission, which some listeners thought sounded like the dying breaths of an unconscious man. A signal from the same flight was interpreted by the brothers’ cardiologist father as being that of a failing human heartbeat. But the most harrowing recording was of a woman seeming to say (roughly translated here), “Isn’t this dangerous? Talk to me! Our transmission begins now. I feel hot. I can see a flame. Am I going to crash? Yes. I feel hot. I will re-enter.”

The Soviets made no mention of any of this. Of course, the USSR routinely covered up its failures, space-related or otherwise. And Dunning noted that its launch record in the early Space Race days was a poor one. And with a state-run media being the only news outlet, the Soviets could squash any inconveniences or embarrassments. Soviet authorities, in fact, did just that when they painted certain cosmonauts out of photographs. Also, the training death of at least one cosmonaut, Valentin Bondarenko, was concealed for many years.

However, deducing that there were cosmonauts who were catapulted to a sci-fi-worthy death in deep space requires ignoring some inconsistencies. Chief among these is that the supposed Morse code tapping and astronaut breaths and heartbeats were recorded when the Soviets were using dogs and mannequins in their launches. And while the Soviets had achieved the ability to escape Earth at this time, the Vostok 8K72 booster they favored used were far too small to be a manned capsule. Also, two Vostok missions were equipped with dummies and human voice tape recordings to test if the radio worked. That would make for a reasonable explanation that requires no doomed cosmonauts and subsequent cover-up of such.

Declassified Soviet documents on its space program have no reference to any of this. In addition, there is a lack of corroborating evidence from the radio tracking stations that were far more advanced than what the Judica-Cordiglias had assembled. Finally, Some Yuri Gagarin biographers suggest that most of the lost cosmonaut hypothesis could be explained by accidents that happened in low orbit, not in space.