Why I Write About (and Debunk) the Chemtrail Conspiracy Theory

Dennis MersereauBy Dennis Mersereau via gawker

In 2003, Barbra Streisand frantically tried to censor pictures of her home in Malibu after someone posted them online. In 2003, millions of people saw pictures of Barbra Streisand’s home in Malibu. In what became known as the Streisand effect, attempts to suppress information about something usually backfires and leads to even more publicity for the supposedly secret thing.

The image of Streisand's Malibu house that led to the naming of the effect. (image: Wikipedia)

The image of Streisand’s Malibu house that led to the naming of the effect. (image: Wikipedia)

There is a strong argument in the weather community that we should ignore the growing number of people who sincerely believe that there is a worldwide governmental conspiracy to control the weather through, among other means, “chemtrails.” Bringing attention to their cause, one may argue, only helps to attract more attention and thereby more adherents to this particular brand of anti-science.

While that is probably true for a small number of people, ignoring the conspiracy theorists only makes them scream louder for attention through the Streisand Effect. The best way to remedy a situation isn’t to bottle it up and pretend that it isn’t happening, but rather to shine light on it and expose the silliness for what it really is.

contrail607If you’re not familiar with the chemtrail conspiracy theory, let me fill you in real quick. The thin, wispy clouds left behind by high-flying aircraft are known as contrails, short for condensation trails. These clouds are left behind as a result of the warm, moist exhaust of the plane’s engines meeting the extremely cold temperatures of the upper atmosphere. It’s a similar principle behind why you can see your breath on cold mornings.

Contrails appear and disappear based on the moisture content of the air through which the plane is passing. If the upper atmospheric air is moist, the plane will leave a contrail that could last hours and spread out into a deck of cirrus. If the air is extremely dry, it might not leave a contrail at all.

chemtrail UFO culprit_250pxSince about the mid-1990s, there’s a subset of people who believe that these contrails are really chemtrails, or trails of vaporized chemicals being sprayed into the atmosphere by aircraft that are really flying around with with tanks full of chemicals rather than passengers. These alleged chemtrails are the work of any number of groups: governments, companies, Jews, you name it. The ultimate goal differs depending on whom you ask, but the two biggest strains of thought are that the chemtrails exist to control the weather or make the populace sick.

For most people with a basic level of science education, the idea is absurd, but the conspiracy theorists truly believe that these chemicals are being sprayed to control the weather, make the population sick, or partake in other “geoengineering” activities.


Back to the theorists themselves. Take last week’s post on chemtrails, for example. It attracted a good bit of attention in the conspiracy circles, and quite a bit of ire directed towards me. Most of it is innocuous, with the typical name calling and impassioned cries of “you’re a shill and you’re wrong, we have the real truth!”

Underneath the vitriol, you can sense that there’s something…wrong, for lack of a better way to put it. For the most part these are not the rantings of people who have mental health issues or who are angry or have an agenda, contrails 01_250pxbut rather they are scared. They truly, deeply believe that there are people spraying us from above, and they are scared.

When you’re scared, you only accept what you want to hear from people. When the nurse tells you that the needle won’t hurt, you smile because that’s what you want to hear even though you know it’s going to hurt anyway. The conspiracy theorists don’t want to hear that their fears are irrational. They want a noble soothsayer to tell them that they’re not buying into a bunch of manure and that somehow, someway, it’s going to be all right because they have the truth.

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