On July 12, 2016, the FBI finally closed the files on one of its most famous unsolved cases. They called it the NORJAK case — short for Northwest Hijacking — but you probably know it by the name given to the hijacker,
D. B. Cooper. Most people are familiar with the basic facts: that in 1971, a man hijacked an airliner, demanded and received cash and a parachute, and jumped out the plane’s back door over the Pacific Northwest and was never caught or identified. Whether he got away clean, or was killed in the attempt, could never be determined. Even though the D. B. Cooper case continues to capture the public’s imagination, there is a lot of fact and fiction unknown to many fans.
On the afternoon of November 24, 1971, a man who looked mid-40ish, wearing a business suit, walked up to the counter of Northwest Airlines in Portland, Oregon. Using the name Dan Cooper, he bought a $20 one-way ticket to Seattle, Washington. He was the second-to-last person to board the plane, and while waiting for takeoff, he ordered and drank a bourbon and soda — unfortunately spilling half of it. Once airborne, he handed flight attendant Florence Schaffner a note, which said something to the effect of “I have a bomb which I will use if necessary, this is a hijacking, please sit next to me.” She showed it to fellow flight attendant Tina Mucklow and to the pilots. Cooper then asked for the note back, which is why its exact wording is not known.
Schaffner took the empty seat next to him as ordered and he opened a briefcase, and showed her what she described as red sticks with a battery and wires. He then dictated to her the following demands:
Take this down. I want $200,000 by 5:00 PM in cash. Put it in a knapsack. I want two back parachutes and two front parachutes. When we land, I want a fuel truck ready to refuel. No funny stuff, or I’ll do the job.
Schaffner conveyed this information to the pilot. Almost nobody on the plane knew anything unusual was happening; the whole episode was handled discreetly. Cooper added that if these instructions were followed, he would safely release everyone on the plane, except for the flight crew.
The airline agreed and contacted the FBI for assistance making the exchange safely. The FBI collected the money from the Seattle First National Bank. Some FBI records say they used a Recordak high-speed microfilm machine to image the serial numbers of all the bills; other records say the bank had the money on hand with its serial numbers already recorded. The airline got on the phone and collected the four parachutes from local contacts. Two hours later, the exchange had been successful, and the plane taxied for takeoff, fully refueled.
Cooper instructed that the plane was to fly a specific route, from Seattle to Portland, to Medford, to Red Bluff, and then to Reno, all while staying below 10,000 feet and keeping the flaps and landing gear down. The plane was a Boeing 727, featuring the nifty “Airstair” rear access stairway under the tail. Cooper had released two of the flight attendants along with the passengers, but had kept Mucklow on board so she could show him how to operate the Airstair.
Frustrated that the money had not been delivered in a knapsack as he’d requested, Cooper began cannibalizing one of the parachute’s cords to do what Mucklow thought was tying the bundles of money to himself. About a half hour after takeoff, Cooper ordered Mucklow up to the cockpit with the pilots and closed the door, ordering them not to open it. At 8:13pm, over southern Washington, the pilots got a number of warning lights. The Airstair had been lowered, cabin pressure had dropped, and the cabin temperature fell sharply — it was -7ºF outside. Not knowing whether Cooper had jumped or not, they continued on to Reno as ordered and landed, causing a nice display of sparks (but no damage) as the Airstair briefly scraped the runway. After receiving no response from Cooper over the intercom, they chanced to open the door, and found him gone; all that remained were his clip-on tie, and a ton of cigarette butts. Nobody would ever see him again.
VSauce blows my mind. I love it. 🙂
Homeopathy is one of the most enduring forms of snake oil available to consumers; it has been duping people since 1814. But the United States government only recently decided to clamp down on these bogus treatments, with a new policy from the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC’s policy statement explains that the agency will now ask that the makers of homeopathic drugs present reliable scientific evidence for their health claims if they want to sell them to consumers on the US market.
Mustering that evidence is likely to be difficult given that homeopathy is a pseudoscience.
The main idea behind homeopathy is that an animal or plant extract that causes symptoms similar to the ones a person is suffering from can cure the symptoms. An example: Because onions make eyes tear and noses run, diluted onion extract is thought to cure cold and hay fever. So homeopathic remedies on the market are just extremely diluted versions of plant or animal extracts believed to bring relief to symptoms.
The trouble is that whenever researchers have looked at the homeopathic treatments, they find they do not actually contain traceable amounts of the original plant or animal material they were supposedly diluting.
Pointing out logical inconsistencies in conspiracy theories can be an effective method of discrediting them, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology.
The researchers had 813 Hungarian adults listen to a speech outlining a made-up conspiracy that purported to explain how hidden Jewish groups and international financial powers were secretly shaping the fate of Hungary. The speech emphasized that “nothing happens by chance, nothing is what it seems, everything is interconnected with everything, and the world is divided into good and evil.”
The participants then listened to another speech which either: pointed out the logical flaws of the conspiracy theory, mocked the ridiculousness and irrationality of those who believed the conspiracy theory, or called attention to the dangers of scapegoating while attempting to increase empathy for Jews. A fourth group of participants, who were used as a control, listened to a weather forecast.
The researchers found that the rationality speech and the ridiculing speech — but not the empathetic speech — were effective in reducing belief in the conspiracy theory.
PsyPost interviewed Peter Kreko, a visiting professor at Indiana University, assistant professor at Eötvös Loránt University of Sciences and senior associate to Political Capital Institute. Read his explanation of the research below:
Pop culture tells us that some people have photographic memories. What’s the real story?
Remember when you were a kid and there was always someone in your class who claimed to have a photographic memory? If you believed it, as many children tend to do, you were probably both impressed and jealous. Then by the time you got older, you’d heard of people with savantism, and champions in memory contests, and people who could remember every day of their lives; and you probably wished that you too could have a photographic or eidetic memory. Well how would you feel if I told you that there might not be any such thing as those abilities?
That’s not to say that nobody has extraordinary or unusual memory prowess. Some do, and we’ll talk about those; but what we want to focus on today is the idea that some people have the pop-culture version of a “photographic memory” that we’ve all heard about, which sounds a bit like a superpower. They can, at will, call to mind the page of a book they’ve read, a license plate they saw, a long string of numbers, what have you; and simply read it off that image in their mind’s eye as if they’re seeing it live. What makes this such a great thing is that it doesn’t seem to come with any cost. They are not otherwise developmentally disabled, and haven’t had to trade other cognitive or behavioral functioning. This is the version of “photographic memory” that so many of us grew up believing in: the superpower version.
Mind blown. Vsauce does it again. 🙂
The Beatles, for all their utopian good vibes, were no strangers to the dark side of the ’60s. They were, of course, at the center of a rather obsessive conspiracy theory — the first one after the JFK assassination to indicate that conspiracy theory had joined the flow of the times, and that it wasn’t just limited to the murder of a president. That theory said that Paul McCartney was dead, that he’d been killed in a car crash in 1966 and replaced by an imposter. (The incident that touched this off was a traffic accident, early in 1967, that involved McCartney’s Aston Martin.)
If the Paul Is Dead rumor was true, then an awful lot of people had to be in on pretending that the fake Paul was the real Paul. To me, though, the ultimate proof that the conspiracy theory was false always came down to Paul McCartney’s eyes. Just study them sometime; they’re among the most distinctive set of celebrity peepers of the 20th century. They are ever so slightly, and beautifully, cockeyed — Paul’s left eye slopes down, and his right eye tilts up just above the other one. They’re the special soul of his Cute One factor. Does anyone really think that a replacement Paul McCartney could have been found who had those exact eyes? As is so often the case, there’s only one thing you should ever lean toward believing about conspiracy theory, and that’s that when you look at it closely, it tends to fall apart.
Yet “The Sixth Beatle,” a documentary about the group’s earliest days, is rooted in a conspiracy theory.
What it means to believe that “real” trees no longer exist
Something tremendous is happening; over the last few weeks, without too many of its globe-headed detractors noticing, a surprisingly vast community on the tattered fringes of intellectual orthodoxy is in turmoil. A bizarre new theory has turned the flat earth upside down. The flat earth is still flat, but now it’s dotted with tiny imitations of the truly enormous trees that once covered the continents, and which in our deforested age we can hardly even remember.I’ve always been mildly obsessed with the flat-earth truth movement, the sprawling network of people utterly convinced that the world has been lied to for centuries about its own physical shape. The particulars differ, but here everyone takes it as a given that a conspiracy reaching from your first schoolteacher to NASA to the metaphysical Beyond has deluded humanity, making us believe that we’re nothing more than something that grew on a rock, a layer of biological grease mouldering on the surface of a ball suspended in empty space, when we’re actually living on a flat plane.
Part of this fascination is anthropological: once, if you wanted to encounter an entirely different ontological system, you had to probe deep into jungles and deserts, pith helmet capping your Western arrogance. Now, with the peculiar cosmology of capitalist production subsuming an entire planet into its logic, mythological worlds are increasingly homogenized, and all that difference and weirdness is no longer geographically extensive. If you want to encounter very different realities, you can find them online, and each time the world reveals itself to be a little richer than you’d thought.
Still, among all the bizarre, self-enclosed universes the internet has to offer—gold-standard bores, UFO chasers, people who believe that cartoons are real in a nearby dimension or that the secret rulers of the world are betraying their existence by leaving little clues on the currency—the flat-earthers are special.
The Life and Times of the Moon Hoax Conspiracy
Yes, it’s a 3-part Skeptoid episode, the first one ever, and it took more than 500 episodes to get me to finally address the moon landing hoax conspiracy. To those who follow science, the claims that we never went to the moon are the most tiresome and foolish of the conspiracy theories; but to those who believe them, they are absolute religion, and the ultimate token of their conviction that anything coming from official sources is a lie. Today we’re going to begin our in-depth analysis of the Moon Landing Conspiracy, of those who believe in it, and a survey of the facts and figures of the basic narrative.
Today we’re going to talk about the history and cultural impact of the claim; next week we’ll go into the most popular evidentiary claims said to prove that we never went to the moon (hopefully including some you haven’t heard before); and in the final installment, we’ll look at the hard physical proof that we did go.
The basic narrative of the Moon Truth conspiracy theory, as you probably know, is that NASA faked the Apollo missions and nobody ever actually went to the moon. As with most conspiracy theories, there are all sorts of variations on the claims of what actually did happen, while the only thing they have in common is that no men actually landed on the moon. Some believe the Apollo missions orbited the moon but did not land; some believe they never went farther than Earth orbit; some believe the Apollo spacecraft flew but were unmanned; some believe they never launched anything at all. The astronauts performed their moonwalks on a movie set, and fake transmissions were provided to the TV networks for broadcast. The reasons given for why the government would have gone to all this trouble range from simply distracting Americans’ attention from the unpopular war in Vietnam, to fooling the Soviets into thinking they lost the Cold War, to protecting NASA’s budget by appearing to spend it on something supremely impressive.
A big question we have to answer is what’s the point of even talking about this? The people who believe it have already heard the science-based responses to their claims a hundred times, and rejected them a hundred times. Their minds are riveted shut to anything but their preferred narrative. We’ll not be changing any of their minds today. And the rest of us aren’t in denial, and aren’t asking these made-up, shoehorned questions that try to raise doubt where none exists. So who is this episode for, nobody?
Well, maybe for somebody. Polling data has, for decades, consistently shown that some 6-7% of Americans believe the moon landings were faked; and even scarier, about four times as many Europeans agree with them. That’s a lot more people than the hardcore YouTube-obsessed serial conspiracists; it includes tens of millions of ordinary folks who are otherwise as rational as you or I. It seems there must be something deeply compelling about this odd belief.
When Malachi Henderson went skydiving a few weeks ago, he noticed that the Earth looked flat, even from the plane. He mentioned it to the pilot. “The higher you get, the flatter it looks,” the pilot replied. Henderson wasn’t surprised: The pilot’s response was evidence of something he’d been researching for years.
Henderson is one of a growing movement of Americans who believe that the Earth is flat. They refer to themselves as flat Earthers.
Flat Earthers have a wide range of convictions. Some come to the movement from a religious place, others from a scientific one. But most believe in one simple principle: that NASA and everyone involved in space exploration are liars and that there is a massive conspiracy to hide the fact that the Earth is flat.
Mic spoke with four flat Earthers from across the country, representing a range of ages and religious backgrounds: Henderson, a 34-year-old bartender; Patrice, 57, a business owner from Florida; Walt Johnson, a 49-year-old disabled former disk jockey from Louisiana; and Ben Long, in his 20s.
These are their stories.
For all those conspiracists who believe the moon landing was a hoax.
Conspiracy theories can be stubborn, particularly in the echo chamber of the internet.
One persistent belief in some quarters is that the government — or business, perhaps — is deploying a fleet of jet aircraft to spray chemicals into the sky to control the population, food supply or other things.
As evidence, they point to what they call “chemtrails,” which are more commonly known as contrails, or condensation trails, produced at high altitudes as water vapor in jet engine exhaust condenses and freezes.
Adding fuel to the chemtrails theory is the fact that there are a few legitimate reasons for atmospheric spraying — “seeding” clouds to make rain, for example — and in recent years there has been some research on the idea of spraying chemicals as a potential way to fight global warming.
But now, scientists have become more organized in their efforts to shoot down the idea, conducting a peer-reviewed study in Environmental Research Letters that debunks chemtrails supporters’ claims.
The goal, the researchers say, is not so much to change the minds of hard-core believers, but to provide a rebuttal — the kind that would show up in a Google search — to persuade other people to steer clear of this idea.
Steven J. Davis, a climate scientist at the University of California, Irvine, said he had the idea for the study after a conversation with a salesman at a mattress store.
When the man found out what he did for a living, Dr. Davis said, “he had very serious questions about what we were going to do about the chemtrails problem.”
Dr. Davis said that when he got home, he searched the internet for peer-reviewed studies on the conspiracy theory, but found none.
The theory has been popularized on websites that display photographs of contrails but are described instead as chemtrails that persist in the atmosphere and contain harmful chemicals like strontium, barium and aluminum.
Source: Butte College
You say you believe the government is hiding something at Area 51–captured alien spacecraft, perhaps? The conjectures and rumors surrounding Area 51 comprise a revered conspiracy theory (many theories, actually). Do you believe the aliens among us are the hidden driving force in human history? That top world leaders (and they aren’t who most people think they are!) are cooperating for personal gain with the alien “reptile overlords” to bring about the enslavement of our species? You might be a conspiracist.
You might buy into one or more conspiracy theories without being an all-out conspiracist. Conspiracism is a world view that sees history as driven primarily by interwoven webs of secret conspiracies. Conspiracy theories are leaner, more restrained, more limited in scope than conspiracism. A conspiracy theory alleges that a secret conspiracy involving hidden actors is behind particular historical events. Its explanation for events usually runs counter to the official or mainstream account, which is itself seen as an elaborate fabrication.
Test your favorite conspiracy against the following components typical of conspiracism and conspiracy theories:
- THEY (the conspirators) are a relatively small group, but powerful and corrupt. They are evil, or at least selfish, acting in their own interest and against the public interest. They have great foresight, patience, and deviousness. Nevertheless, they are not all-powerful or even that smart, really, since WE have figured them out.
- WE are a small, dedicated group of freedom fighters and freethinkers. We are soldiers, rebels in the fight for good against evil.
- YOU are clueless. Why can’t you see what’s going on here? (Conspiracy theorists place most people in this group.)
- THEY have hidden or destroyed all the evidence that would implicate them and have manufactured false evidence that exculpates them.
- YOU are close-minded. In fact, you are probably one of THEM.
The comfort of conspiracy theory is that it provides a well-defined enemy and a sense of control (or at least structure) in the face of upheaval and disempowerment; the tendency to perceive conspiracy is more common in groups experiencing social isolation or political marginalization. The freedom fighters of conspiracy theory need not see themselves as being at the mercy of irresistible, inexplicable, or random natural or social forces, but as soldiers in a just cause. Many, if not most, conspiracy theories probably result from the human tendency to look for pattern in chaos-even if there isn’t any.
Conspiracy theories and conspiracism share three problems:
The main problem with any particular conspiracy theory is not that it’s wrong, but that it’s inarguable; not that it’s false, but that it is unfalsifiable. Because it is unfalsifiable, a conspiracy theory is not provable or disprovable.