Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

HAARPing on the facts

While we're discussing conspiracy theories, may as well take a look at what journalist Sharon Weinberger calls "the Moby Dick of conspiracy theories;" HAARP.

HAARP, which stands for High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, is a study facility jointly funded by the military and by the University of Alaska.  Its stated goal is to use collimated beams of high energy (3.6 MW), high-frequency (2.8-10 MHz) electromagnetic radiation into the ionosphere, to determine how the ionosphere reacts.  This could have important ramifications regarding the operations of communications and surveillance satellites, whose signals have to penetrate the ionosphere.  The idea is that if we tweak the ionosphere to see how it responds, it will in theory become easier to manage its reaction to natural processes (e.g. solar flares) and minimize disruption of satellite communication.

Well, that's what they're telling us, anyway.  HAARP certainly has a sinister look; a field of spidery antennas up in the middle of nowhere in the Alaskan tundra.  It figured prominently in the animated series GI Joe: Resolute,  the Marvel Comics game X-Men Legends, and Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura.  Also, the movie The Core, which is perhaps the single stupidest science-based movie ever made, featured a thinly-disguised HAARP clone called "DESTINI."

You remember how in Galaxy Quest, the aliens had been receiving transmissions of human television shows and thought that all of them, including Gilligan's Island, were historical documentaries?  I think something like that must have happened here.  Evidently someone overlooked the fact that The Core is shelved in the "Fiction" section of Rent-a-Flick, because to listen to these people talk, the directors of HAARP are trying to kill us.   Here is a brief list of things HAARP has allegedly caused:

1)  Hurricane Katrina.
2)  The Haitian earthquake.
3)  The Japanese earthquake and resulting tsunami.
4)  The 2003 European heat wave.
5)  The recent outbreak of tornadoes in the American Southeast.

In addition, HAARP could potentially cause:

1)  The "sky to focus light like a lens and burn great swaths of forest."
2)  The magnetic poles to suddenly flip.
3)  The fracture of continental tectonic plates.
4)  Volcanic eruptions.
5)  A dramatic increase in the radiation output of the sun, which would cause the Earth to fry like a peep in a microwave.

No one seems to be quite sure how HAARP could cause all of this, but that doesn't seem to matter much to the conspiracy theorists, a reaction I find frankly baffling.  Whenever someone proposes something weird, my first demand is, "show me the mechanism."  If you claim that wearing amethyst crystals around your neck improves your health, tell me how it works, and don't rely on goofy, undefinable words like "psychic energy fields."  To my enduring astonishment, it seems like most people don't think that way.  If something appeals to their sense of the mysterious, or if it validates their impression of the government or the scientific establishment as being evil, or if they learned it from a recognized scientific expert like Jesse Ventura, they swallow it whole.

Once again, I feel obliged to say that I don't think it's outside of the realm of possibility that our military might be trying to develop super-powerful weapons.  It's just that I don't think that HAARP is it.  And as for using a pulsed electromagnetic beam to cause earthquakes, well, I'm sorry, I have to call "bullshit" on that one.  HAARP can't create a Star Trek style tractor beam to pull on earthquake zones; it can't fracture tectonic plates; it can't whip up hurricanes and tornadoes.  And when I read that someone thought that HAARP could somehow cause the atmosphere to "focus light like a lens," my first thought was, "you don't have the first clue how lenses work, do you?"

It seems to me that in the minds of many people, Big Evil Government Agencies have replaced the ancient gods.  When the Vikings heard thunder, they thought that Thor was shouting and throwing his hammer.  When the Greeks saw a volcano erupt, Hephaestus was working in his forge.  Now?  If an earthquake occurs, it's not enough just to say, "Well, Japan is in a geological earthquake zone, we understand the science of what happened" -- we have to invent the god HAARPius who Smote The Land With His Mighty Beam of Destruction.  Magical thinking will, apparently, be with us always.

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