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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Crazy claim pop quiz

Here at Skeptophilia we've talked about "Poe's Law" -- the general rule that a sufficiently well-done satire is indistinguishable from the real thing.  Usually, this happens because of the cleverness with which the satire is written -- matching in tone, style, and verbiage the particular slice of crazy that the writer is satirizing.

There's another force at work here, too, however.  And that is that the range of nutty things that people actually believe is frightening.  Every time I run into something that seems too completely batshit insane for anyone to take seriously, it always turns out that there is a whole cadre of folks who believe it fervently.  Sometimes there are schools where it's taught as fact.  Sometimes it's been turned into a religion.

I'm not sure where such irrational credulity comes from -- yet another question I've asked here more than once.  But to illustrate this capacity for people to buy into ideas no matter how completely ridiculous they are, I decided to have a little fun today.

Below are ten claims I dug up this morning.  Five of them are from satirical websites, and five are serious -- i.e., there are actually people who think these views are true.  See if you can figure out which are which.
  1. The movie Despicable Me is rife with satanic messages.  In particular, the "minions" were designed to trick children into accepting their role as the mindless slaves of Lucifer.
  2. The Israeli town of Petah Tivka is a model made out of cardboard.  Baron Edmond de Rothschild conspired with the Israeli government to make a beautiful-appearing town at the site to intimidate the Palestinians.
  3. There is an attempted coup going on, right now, amongst the Illuminati.  A cabal of radical atheists have infiltrated the Illuminati and are trying to overthrow the leaders, and institute laws forcing atheism to be mandatory worldwide, and religious belief (of any kind) punishable by death.
  4. The US has declared war on a coalition comprised of China and Russia, because the Chinese and Russians were trying to block the dominance of the American corporate world, headed by David Rothschild and the Jews.  There have already been nuclear detonations, but the US media is covering it up.
  5. Ellen Pao, chairperson of Reddit, is a puppet of the New World Order and rules the site with an iron fist.  Her employees seed the site with disinformation, deleting or downvoting posts that don't toe the party line (or that might threaten to reveal what's going on).  The site also has links to satanism.
  6. The mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia is paying pilots to chemtrail the city with chemicals that will turn the citizens into mindless zombies.  One guy found out about the plan, so the mayor sent cyborg sea otters up the Powell River to attack the guy's house.  They broke through a wall, but the guy got away.
  7. The German city of Bielefeld does not exist.  The town that existed at the site was damaged during World War I and razed completely during World War II, and never rebuilt.  The German government has kept up the fa├žade of Bielefeld's existence to save face.
  8. The Charleston church shooting was a hoax, masterminded by President Obama and overseen by Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.  Reverend Clementa Pinkney is still alive and is in hiding.  Dylan Roof isn't a real person, and film footage showing him is faked.
  9. Vladimir Putin is in cahoots with some secessionists in Texas to get Texas to break away from the United States, in hopes of triggering a domino effect of secessions similar to the collapse of the former Soviet Union, and the resultant destruction of the United States as a world power.
  10. The Tour de France is a hoax.  Every year it is filmed in the same studio, out at Area 51, where the Moon landing films and photographs were made.
Ready for some answers?
  1. Real.  This site claims that the whole game is given away by Despicable Me's tag line which is "When the world needed a hero... they called a villain."
  2. Satire.  Petah Tivka is real, and the idea that it's only a lot of false fronts has become something of a running joke in Israel.
  3. Satire.  As much as I'd love to see this happen, because the whole idea of a "cabal of radical atheists" cracks me up.  The site where this article appears, HardDawn, has tricked thousands of people.  The fact that it's a satire site becomes clearer when you say the website name out loud.  (Get it? Hur hur hur.)
  4. Real.  This one is from the notorious site Before It's News, which should be all you need to know.
  5. Satire.  Although to hear some Redditors talk, you'd think it was true.  Note that the website name is NaturalNewd -- one letter off from another notorious site.  The article further claims that the site Digg went down the tubes after its owner sacrificed a baby to Baphomet to boost their hit rate, and Jesus objected.
  6. Real.  This site, owned by one Callum Houston, has a whole series called "Things I've Seen in the Powell River," which you should definitely check out  But the cyborg sea otters by far are my favorite.
  7. Satire.  The "Bielefeld Conspiracy" started as an online joke amongst some German college students, after they kept receiving three "no" answers in a row from everyone they asked the following questions: (1) Have you ever been to Bielefeld? (2) Do you know anyone from Bielefeld? (3) Do you know anyone who has ever been to Bielefeld?  Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a little fun with it after she mentioned a town meeting she'd attended in Bielefeld, ending with, "... if it exists at all."  She then looked puzzled and added, "I had the impression I was there."
  8. Real.  The whole "crisis actor" thing just makes me nauseated, but seems to crop up every time there's a well-publicized shooting.  I'm only surprised it took them this long to jump on the Charleston massacre.
  9. Real.  That Putin is a pretty tricky guy.  Although I must say that it doesn't take much to get the secessionist wackos in Texas yammering.
  10. Satire.  The Danish satirical news program De Uaktuelle Nyheder did a story a few years ago that the Tour de France was a hoax, and in subsequent followups went on to say first that the French language was gibberish, and finally that France itself didn't exist.
How'd you do?

You know, there's a problem with this whole thing, which is that once something appears in print, there will be people who will believe it.  Look at the fact that HardDawn (the same site that claims that radical atheists are taking over the Illuminati, #3 above) had an article back in 2013 that chemtrails were killing the angels in heaven, and I am still seeing that one posted as real on conspiracy sites.

So the line between satire and belief just keeps getting blurrier and blurrier.  Which should not surprise regular readers of this blog, but is a conclusion that makes me want to take Ockham's Razor and slit my wrists with it.

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