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.