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, November 1, 2019


A friend and long-time loyal reader of Skeptophilia tagged me in a post on Facebook a couple of days ago, with a link and the single line "Wake up, Sheeple."

The link was to a site that is called, I shit you not, "Birds Aren't Real."  My first thought was that the name would turn out to be metaphorical or symbolic or something, but no; these people believe in Truth in Advertising.

They are really, literally saying that birds are not real.

He's awfully pretty for being imaginary, don't you think?  [Image licensed under the Creative Commons Eleanor Briccetti, Flame-faced Tanager (4851596008), CC BY-SA 2.0]

On their "History" page, which you should read in its entirety because it's just that entertaining, we find passages like the following:
On June 2nd, 1959 operation “Water the Country” was born.  This was to be the secret code name given to the program from 1959 to 1976, when it was renamed to “Operation Very Large Bird” (the individual in charge of naming the program didn’t want to get into any copyright trouble with the popular PBS show Sesame Street by naming the project Operation Big Bird.)  Within the next 6 years, 15% of the bird population was wiped out.  During these first few years, bird prototypes were released by the hundred million.  The term ‘drone’ was not used at this time, and instead they were referred to as Robot Birds.
It also quotes Alvin B. Cleaver, Internal Communications Director for the CIA, as saying, "We’ve killed about 220 million so far, and the best thing is, the Robot Birds we’ve released in their place have done such a good job that nobody even suspects a thing."

Oh, and I didn't mention that the whole thing is underneath a header that says, "The only way to properly explain this is with words."  Making me wonder if we had another choice, such as interpretive dance.

So anyhow, I'm reading this, and my expression is looking more and more like this:

This has to be a spoof, I'm thinking.  No one in their right mind would believe this.  So I started to look, first on the website itself, then somewhere in the media, trying to find a place where someone, anyone basically went, "Ha-ha, we were just kidding."

But no.

Birds Aren't Real is the brainchild of one Seth McIndoe of Memphis, Tennessee, and to all appearances he's entirely serious.  There are now chapters of the "Bird Brigade" in fifty cities around the United States, dedicated to convincing people that by 2001, the government had replaced all real birds with robotic drones.  "We hope to achieve public unity through disbelief in avian beings," McIndoe says.

When told that some of the people in the Bird Brigade are doing it for the laughs and don't really believe it's the truth, McIndoe just shrugs and says, "We're living in a post-truth era."

Whatever the fuck that means.

He's nothing if not thorough, though.  He's suspicious of each and every bird, from the Bald Eagles soaring the Colorado Rockies to the Song Sparrows nibbling sunflower seeds at your bird feeder.  "I see them every day," McIndoe says.  "Every bird I see I am aware it is a surveillance drone from above sending footage, recordings to the Pentagon."

If you're inclined to agree with McIndoe, I should point out that there's a whole line of "Activism Apparel" on the Birds Aren't Real website, featuring t-shirts (several designs), hoodies, bumper stickers, and baseball caps, so you can advertise your allegiance to this fairly dubious cause.  My favorite one has a picture of Sesame Street's Big Bird and is labeled "Big Propaganda."

So McIndoe, apparently, is less concerned with trademark infringement than the CIA is.

What made me facepalm the hardest, though, was that after perusing the website, I dropped onto social media for a few minutes -- and saw three advertisements for Birds Aren't Real merchandise.  That's how long it took.  I clicked on one site, and five minutes later, I've already been pegged as some kind of Avian Truther.

Or Post-Truther.  Or whatever.

To the friend who started all this, allow me to say: thanks just bunches.  Like I need more crazies aiming their targeted advertisements at me.  I already regularly see ads for items like the SasqWatch (a wristwatch that has a band shaped like a -- you guessed it -- big foot), Cryptids of the World Coasters, a MothMan Running Team t-shirt, and an Ogopogo mug, to name just a few.

So honestly, I guess one more won't hurt.  It'll give me something interesting to wear on my next birdwatching trip.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is a really cool one: Andrew H. Knoll's Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth.

Knoll starts out with an objection to the fact that most books on prehistoric life focus on the big, flashy, charismatic megafauna popular in children's books -- dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus, Allosaurus, and Quetzalcoatlus, and impressive mammals like Baluchitherium and Brontops.  As fascinating as those are, Knoll points out that this approach misses a huge part of evolutionary history -- so he set out to chronicle the parts that are often overlooked or relegated to a few quick sentences.  His entire book looks at the Pre-Cambrian Period, which encompasses 7/8 of Earth's history, and ends with the Cambrian Explosion, the event that generated nearly all the animal body plans we currently have, and which is still (very) incompletely understood.

Knoll's book is fun reading, requires no particular scientific background, and will be eye-opening for almost everyone who reads it.  So prepare yourself to dive into a time period that's gone largely ignored since such matters were considered -- the first three billion years.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

1 comment:

  1. ALL birds?? Then drone technology is sophisticated enough to lay eggs, have baby drones hatch out of them, and grow into adult drones... because I have watched that life cycle reenacted several times in the nest they build outside my living room window. If only other truths were as easy to debunk as this one. (If they want it, I still have the corpse of one baby bird which did not survive).