Tag Archives: barium

Debunking Chemtrails – Introduction – #1

People online can unknowingly find themselves in an echo-chamber, having their more fringe beliefs amplified and reinforced by a lack of exposure to conflicting views and evidence. That, coupled with the fact that anyone can publish anything online, has lead to a renaissance in conspiracy theories, pseudo-medical procedures, and general bad science. One of the more interesting conspiracy theories that seems to have grown in popularity over the last decade is the belief that the long-lasting white clouds left in the sky by aircraft are actually chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed on the population for nefarious reasons. The people who believe in this conspiracy theory call these lines in the sky ‘chemtrails’ and feel so strongly against them that they recently organised protests around the world. I decided to make a series of videos investigating the weird and wonderful world of chemtrails to hopefully shed some light on a conspiracy which most find hard to grasp.

Scientists Just Say No to ‘Chemtrails’ Conspiracy Theory

via The New York Times

 Contrails, or condensation trails, left by jet aircraft streak across the sky over Santa Fe, N.M. Credit Robert Alexander/Archive Photos, via Getty Images

Contrails, or condensation trails, left by jet aircraft streak across the sky over Santa Fe, N.M.
Credit Robert Alexander/Archive Photos, via Getty Images

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.

contrails-2_0350pxThe 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.

Continue Reading @ The New York Times . . .

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Chemtrails: Puffy White Lies

Via This Week in Pseudoscience

One of my favorite conspiracy theories to debate is “chemtrails.”  The factual explanations behind the puffy white lines are so fabulously simple, you’ve got to marvel at those who harbor this preposterous notion.  Entertain no fear, intelligent reader, as this conspiracy can only be held by the least scientific among us.  To argue with chembelievers is to feel both frustration and bewilderment manifest.

contrails 01_250pxYou’ll hear the battle cry of the Chemtrailers: “Wake up!  Look up!” soliciting you to abandon your ability to research for the blind acceptance of anecdotal opinion.  We live in a world where information is so readily accessible for anyone who chooses to pursue it.  The challenge comes in vetting sources, and this seems to be the trap in to which Chemtrailers fall.  They want so badly to be right about being sprayed, they will use any source available that serves their confirmation bias.

Contrails, as they’re known by the scientifically literate among us, are quite simply explained.  In fact, NASA does quite a good job of expounding it:

“Contrails are clouds formed when water vapor condenses and freezes around small particles (aerosols) that exist in aircraft exhaust. Some of that water vapor comes from the air around the plane; and, some is added by the exhaust of the aircraft. The exhaust of an aircraft contains both gas (vapor) and solid particles. Both of these are important in the formation of contrails. Some elements of the exhaust gasses are not involved in contrail formation but do constitute air pollution. Emissions include carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons such as methane, sulfates (SOx), and soot and metal particles.” [1]

Now the fun part…

“THERE’S CHEMIKILLS IN MY AIR.”

chemtrail UFO culprit_250pxThe quintessential Chemtrailer will claim that there are a host of chemicals being sprayed on us.  In my experience, the most common particulates mentioned are aluminum, strontium, and barium.  If these were being littered upon us in such volume as to cause detriment to our health, they would be easily detectable in soil and air samples yet, not surprisingly, no proof has been offered from any laboratory to date.  Ask the conspiracy theorists to provide one; they can’t and they won’t.

“CONTRAILS DISSIPATE, BUT CHEMTRAILS DON’T.”

Some of the conspiracy theorists don’t want to seem as crazy and so they’ll justify their position by saying that chemtrails stay in the sky for hours while contrails dissipate quickly.

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Accretion, eruption, and paranoia

Gordon Bonnetby Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia

Astrophysicists talk about the process of accretion, where microscopic particles of dust and ice stick together (largely through electrostatic attraction), leading to the formation of disks of matter around the parent star than can eventually form planets.  As the clumps of dust get larger, so does their gravitational attraction to nearby clumps — so they grow, and grow, and grow.

Conspiracy theories also grow by accretion.

One person notices one thing — very likely something natural, accidental, minor, insignificant — and points it out.  Others begin to notice other, similar phenomena, and stick those to the original observation, whether or not there is any real connection.  And as the number of accreted ideas grows, so does the likelihood of attracting other ideas, and soon you have a full-blown gas giant of craziness.

How did dew, collected in a glazed ceramic bowl, start the whole chemtrail conspiracy theory?

The whole chemtrail conspiracy theory nonsense began with some dew in a glazed ceramic bowl and a reporter that failed math class.

It seems to be, for example, how the whole nonsense about “chemtrails” started.  A reporter for KSLA News (Shreveport, Louisiana) in 2007 was investigating a report of “an unusually persistent jet contrail,” and found that a man in the area had “collected dew in bowls” after he saw the contrail.  The station had the water in the bowls analyzed, and reported that it contained 6.8 parts per million of the heavy metal barium — dangerously high concentrations.  The problem is, the reporter got the concentration wrong by a factor of a hundred — it was 68 parts per billion, which is right in the normal range for water from natural sources (especially water collected in a glazed ceramic bowl, because ceramic glazes often contain barium as a flux).  But the error was overlooked, or (worse) explained away post hoc as a government coverup.  The barium was at dangerous concentrations, people said.  And it came from the contrail.  Which might contain all sorts of other things that they’re not telling you about.

And thus were “chemtrails” born.

It seems like in the last couple of months, we’re seeing the birth of a new conspiracy theory, as if we needed another one.  Back in 2011, I started seeing stories about the Yellowstone Supervolcano, and how we were “overdue for an eruption” (implying that volcanoes operate on some kind of timetable).  At first, it was just in dubiously reliable places like LiveScience, but eventually other, better sources got involved, probably as a reaction to people demanding information on what seemed like a dire threat.  No, the geologists said, there’s no cause for worry.  There’s no indication that the caldera is going to erupt any time soon.  Yes, the place is geologically active, venting steam and gases, but there is no particular reason to be alarmed, because volcanoes do that.

Bison running for their lives? Photo: YouTube

Bison running for their lives? Photo: YouTube

Then, last month, we had people who panicked when they saw a video clip of bison running about, and became convinced that the bison had sensed an eruption coming and were “fleeing the park in terror.”  And once again, we had to speak soothingly to the panicked individuals, reassuring them that bison are prone to roaming about even when not prompted to do so by a volcano (cf. the lyrics to “Home on the Range,” wherein the singer wishes for “a home where the buffalo roam,” despite the fact that such a home would probably face animal dander issues on a scale even we dog owners can’t begin to imagine).

But the accretion wasn’t done yet.  The bison were too running from the volcano, people said.  So were the elk.  And then the real crazies got involved, and said that the government was already beginning to evacuate people from a wide region around Yellowstone, and relocating them to FEMA camps where they are cut off from communicating with anyone.  And when there was an explosion and fire at a gas processing plant in Opal, Wyoming two weeks ago, 150 miles from Yellowstone, and the whole town was evacuated, the conspiracy theorists went nuts.  This is it, they said.  It’s starting.  The government is getting people out, because they know the whole freakin’ place is going to explode.

Never mind the fact that the residents of Opal were all  .  .  .

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Viral Video Claims to Prove ‘Chemtrails’ Conspiracy

Benjamin Radfordby Benjamin Radford via Discovery News

For many years, conspiracy theorists have claimed that the government conducts top-secret chemical testing in the skies above us. As evidence, they point to “chemtrails” — actually ordinary airplane contrails, or condensation trails — that, it’s claimed, have some sinister purpose.

contrail607_225pxIn his conspiracy book “Above Top Secret,” Jim Marrs notes that “No one in a position of authority will admit that they exist, much less who is responsible, and what purpose they may serve. Unlike many mysteries, this one is visible to anyone who cares to look up on the days that large jets weave narrow and continuous vapor/chemical trails through the sky.”

chemtrail cat_225pxIt’s odd that conspiracy theorists are so certain they exist but can’t even agree on what, exactly, they are or what they do. Some say it’s a sinister government mind-control experiment. Others say the trails are a form of weather control. Still others insist that experimental drugs are being tested on unsuspecting urban populations.

Hard evidence of the existence of these chemtrails has been elusive, but earlier this week a video surfaced that claims to provide proof. It shows a plane landing in a fog, with what are claimed to be jets of chemicals spewing from the wings.

According to the breathless description on one website:

“A pilot of a commercial airliner made a mistake that irrefutably PROVES the existence of ‘CHEMTRAILS’— by forgetting to turn them off before he landed! We have video of the plane landing while still spraying CHEMTRAILS as it hits the runway. This is the first empirical evidence to back-up claims made (by) people, smeared as ‘conspiracy-theorists,’ who claimed airlines are being used by government to spray aerosols into the air without the knowledge or consent of the people being sprayed. With proof like this, the public now has legal standing to file lawsuits, utilize subpoenas and force discovery of evidence.”

This is not the first time that someone has claimed to have found hard evidence of chemtrails. In “Above Top Secret,” Marrs offers this evidence:contrails 01_225px

“One Louisiana TV station in late 2007 took upon itself the task of testing water captured under a crosshatch of aerial trails. According to investigative reporter Jeff Ferrell, ‘KSLA News 12 had the sample tested at a lab. The results: high level of barium, 6.8 parts per million, (ppm). That’s more than three times the toxic level set by the Environmental Protection Agency.’”

However, David E. Thomas, a physicist writing in Skeptical Inquirer science magazine, took a closer look at the KSLA report. Thomas notes:

“The actual video clearly shows 68.8 ug/L (micrograms per liter), or 68.8 ppb (parts per billion)…. 68.8 millionths of a gram per liter corresponds to 68.8 parts per billion, (and) the reporter was off by a factor of 100 because he read the ’68.8′ as ’6.8.’ Ferrell overestimated the amount of barium in the test report by a factor of 100…. The test result was not ‘three times the toxic level set by the EPA’; it was around 30 times less than the EPA’s toxic limit.”

So the alarming levels of barium that conspiracy theorist Jim Marrs cited as evidence of chemtrails was in fact a mistake created by a TV reporter’s poor math skills.

What about the new video showing explosive proof of chemtrails?

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