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.

Friday, May 16, 2014

It was the best of times...

If there is a group of people I hate arguing with even more than I hate arguing with young-earth creationists, it's the conspiracy theorists.

At least the young-earth creationists just think I'm working for Satan, a charge that I can understand, considering their view of things.  Sure, we don't accept the same ground rules for proof (evidence versus revelation); sure, we have different conclusions regarding where you can apply the laws of scientific inference (damn near everywhere versus only places where it doesn't conflict with Holy Writ).

But at least we can talk.  The conspiracy theorists, you can't even have a civil discussion with.  They accuse you of either being stupid or else working for evil humans, both of which are in my opinion worse than working for Satan because stupidity and evil humans actually exist.  The worst part, though, is that they pretend to accept the principles of rational argument, but then when it comes down to the point, they don't, really.  You can bring out the best-researched study about the efficacy and safety of vaccines, the most convincing argument that 9/11 and Sandy Hook were not "inside jobs" or "false flags," the most persuasive evidence out there that HAARP has nothing to do with raising tsunamis or causing earthquakes.

And where does it get you?  They just write you off as a dupe or a shill.  It's the ultimate example of the False Dilemma Fallacy; if you don't agree with us, you're one of.... Them.

The problem in this country has gotten so bad that Kurt Eichenwald did a big piece in Vanity Fair on the topic this week, and you all should read it.  In fact, everyone in the civilized world should read it, because it's brilliant, even though it's depressing.  I'll give you a brief passage from it, but then I want you to go to the link and read the whole thing:
(W)e have become scientific and political illiterates, and no nation can survive on a bedrock of such delusional stupidity.  Of course, the 26 percent (or more) won’t believe me, if they manage to read this.  I’ll just be deemed an “elitist” for daring to suggest that demon science and data, rather than ridiculous conspiracy theories, should be used to judge reality.  So, it may be a losing battle, but we should all try.  I don’t want to be forced, someday, to stand by as the rest of the world renames our nation “America the Ignorant.”
It's a bit of a coincidence that I should come across this when I did, because it came on the heels of another article, one sent to me by a loyal reader of Skeptophilia, that details one of the most pervasive and bizarre conspiracy theories out there: that the US government in general, and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) in particular, are laying plans to kill us all.

Apparently, the whole thing is supposed to be carried out via guillotine, which is at least creative, if messy.

And here, we find out what they have in store for us:
Code ICD 9 E 978 Makes Execution by Guillotine Legal Under Obamacare.  The specific code sent to me will make any American’s hair stand up on the back of their neck.  The code is ICD 9 E 978.  After reading this code I decided that it was my duty to investigate further and get to the bottom of why we have a medical code in the United States for “Legal Execution.”  The Jesuits are behind most conspiracies and this one is no different...  Execution by Guillotine is painless.
And I'm thinking: what the fuck does Obamacare have to do with this?  Was that just something extra to throw in, along with the Jesuits for some reason, the way that the anti-GMO crowd will throw in the name "Monsanto" as a stand-in for Hitler?

At least they tossed us the cheerful tidbit that getting your head sliced off is painless.  I'm relieved, actually, considering what other methods they could have chosen.

And any good news at all is reassuring, considering what's been going on:
Not too long ago, I received word that the information I received regarding the guillotines was not only accurate, it was actually being lobbied in Washington DC to get them legalized for governmental use!  The states I mentioned on my “current events” page a few years back was [sic] in fact GEORGIA & MONTANA as the recipients of these guillotines.  The information I had received was that 15,000 or 30,000 guillotines had been shipped to Georgia as well as Montana for safe keeping until such a time as they are needed.
Doesn't 30,000 guillotines seem a little like... overkill?  *rimshot*

But yes, they say, FEMA is "stockpiling guillotines," a phrase that I find to be funny in a gruesome sort of fashion.  Why would they need a "stockpile?"  It's not like you can only use them once, or anything.  During the French Revolution, Robespierre and his Band of Merry Men seemed to do quite well with only a few, running pretty much round the clock.

But the level of pretzel logic crosses some kind of line into "really scary" later in the article, wherein we read:
When the Democratic Underground reports that retired FBI agent Ted Gunderson tells a gathering of antigovernment “Patriots” that the federal government has set up 1,000 internment camps across the country and is storing 30,000 guillotines and a half-million caskets in Atlanta.  They’re there for the day the government finally declares martial law and moves in to round up or kill American dissenters, he says. “They’re going to keep track of all of us, folks,” Gunderson warns.
And that plays a nice little glissando on our fear-harp, doesn't it?  "They" will keep track of us.  The "dissenters" will be rounded up and done away with.  Using secret guillotines.  And our bodies will end up in secret caskets.  And worst of all, this will be done by the people who are supposed to be on our side.

Now, I hasten to add that I'm reasonably certain that none of it is true.  I'd be willing to lay money on the fact that there are no guillotines, no caskets, and that FEMA is your usual rather inept, bumbling excuse for a government agency, with no particular ill intent.  But as I said earlier; you can't convince the conspiracy theorists of that.  The fear is too high for them to admit that they could be wrong; it would require such a drastic revision of their entire worldview, their whole raison d'ĂȘtre, that even the thought must be painful.

Better to continue considering me a dupe, or worse, a pawn in the disinformation network.

It's tempting, sometimes, to give up trying to convince them.  The odds of overcoming such galloping paranoia seem slim.  But I agree with Eichenwald; and it seems fitting to end with another quote from him.
So, should you listen to me?  Of course not.  I’m not a scientist either.  But there is plenty of valid research, easily accessible through Google, that lays out the trends and issues surrounding the safety of vaccines and the changes in climate we experience.  But Americans, based on the PPP poll, would rather listen to celebrities.  Bottom line here is that American ignorance isn’t always just funny—it can be downright dangerous.


  1. It's a really sloppy conspiracy. If I were running it, things would be different. To start with, I'd round up those loud-mouth celebrities and brainwash them back to the official version of the truth.

  2. A passenger plane struck the Pentagon. Photographic evidence shows a single orifice in the side of the building. The official record states that, upon impact, the wings of the plane folded, allowing all of the plane to fit into the single orifice that was initiated by impact from the fuselage.
    Take our common knowledge of: The modular/composite construction of a plane fuselage and wings; the heaviest part of the plane being it's engines; and the laws of mass/inertia; and explain why the engines did not create the largest destructive force upon the building.

    My hypothesis is that the engines should have left two craters in the side of the building and that the weight and density of the engines would have been immensely greater than the wings, such that the wings would have disintegrated before being capable of folding the engines backwards.

    Is that a cogent argument?

    I'm not actually looking for an answer to that question here (the proving/disproving of it isn't even possible anymore). It's merely prose.

    I in no way wish to diminish the excellent point you are making.... but sometimes a cigar isn't a cigar ...and sometimes, the makers of cigars go to great lengths to conceal the truth about the harmful effects of cigars.

    Climate change denial is a genuine conspiracy... just ask the coal industry. They'll be honest with you.

    Is anyone in a position of power genuinely honest, anymore?
    I realize that's a rhetorical generalization, but I'm trying to get to the root of things. Disinformation is everywhere. Truth isn't in high demand (eg. politics).

    Conspiracy is actively benefitting a host of industries. If the coal industry agreed with the truth of climate change, it would lower their bottom line. Thus, intentional deception ensues.

    The guy with a "UFO chemtrail" website is collateral damage from a society with less interest in the truth. Most importantly, the lack of truth spans the power spectrum, top to bottom. It's the lack of truth toward the top that concerns me. "UFO chemtrail" guy? Harmless. The "Greenhouse gas emissions are fine, stop worrying" guy is the one that scares me.

    I believe that a lot of the religious fervor we see is conspiratorial. If you can get a person to believe in faith, they will be less grounded in truth and therefore easier to decieve or recruit to a false idea.

    Check the religious affiliation of the majority of climate change deniers. I think you'll see an obvious pattern.

  3. I believe what I see, not what I read or hear!
    There is some new razor wire around a former sac base in Blytheville Arkansas leaning inward not outward, there is a Russian base in Mississippi with signs that read 'deadly force authorized' and they said the fema camps were for disaster victims first, then they said they were for an influx of illegal aliens from Mexico yet they have been used for neither one, so YOU tell ME what they are for.