Besides serving as a brilliant case study for the evolution of 1990s hairstyles, The X-Files taught an entire generation that Occam’s razor — the simplest explanation for strange phenomena is usually the correct one — is boring and stupid and completely wrong. No, the superior explanation is always 44 minutes of aliens and Sasquatches.
That same lesson applies to these four recent news stories, which are all so bizarre that even the Gillian Andersonest of Gillian Andersons would have a tough time denying the involvement of interstellar poltergeists.
#4. The Mars Rover Found a Mystery Rock (That Wasn’t There Before)
As far as exciting discoveries go, Mars has been kind of a wet noodle — the Opportunity rover has found no signs of ancient teleportation arks, atmospheric reactors, or dead John Carters. Just as it seemed we were all about to stop pretending we cared about any of Opportunity’s billion-dollar photographs of orange dirt, it sent back this picture:
Big deal, it’s a shiny rock. We’ve got those here on Earth. Now, look at a photo taken of the same area 12 days earlier:
That shiny rock wasn’t there two weeks prior. Scientists are baffled by the rock’s composition — it contains high amounts of sulfur, magnesium, and manganese, something they claim they’ve never seen before on the surface of Mars. Of course, all of this takes a back seat to the more pressing question: Who the hell put that rock there? Did it grow legs and crawl like the moon rocks in Apollo 18?
#3. A Wandering Pit Bull Was Found With an Old Black & White Photo in Its Collar
Earlier this month, animal rescue workers in Greenville, South Carolina, picked up a stray pit bull that had wandered into town with absolutely no identification … except for a completely unlabeled black-and-white photograph of a man from Grapes of Wrath times sitting on a porch banister and smiling tucked into its collar.
Presumably the photograph is a picture of either the dog’s human form before he was metamorphosed by a gypsy curse or the man that the dog was sent back in time to destroy. Considering that they have yet to find the dog’s owner or any explanation for its sudden, mysterious appearance, our guesses are as good as any.
Somewhat related: Fox Wants To Bring Back The X-Files, David Duchovny And Gillian Anderson (io9)
In Skeptoid Episode #364, Brian made a statement regarding conspiracy theories that I’ve since used many times in my continued battle against tinfoil-helmeted nonsense. It’s simple, direct, and 100% true:
A less-elegant and wordier way to say this is that there has never been a popularly held conspiracy theory, ie, a non-evidenced belief that a group of powerful people secretly worked together to do something harmful, that later had compelling evidence to prove that said conspiracy was real.
Whenever I use this argument in social media, I’m invariably sent one of about half a dozen different internet listicles that attempt to prove me wrong by going through a number of conspiracies or conspiracy theories that were later proven to be real. One is a really long slog from Infowars. Another is from Cracked. There are still others from Listverse, Style Slides and True Activist.
What much of the content on these lists, as well as those who send them to me, get wrong on a pretty consistent basis is that there is a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory. Conspiracies are real, and many of them have been proven conclusively to have taken place at all times throughout history. Some of these include the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler (the so-called July 20th plot), the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series, American tobacco companies conspiring to suppress scientific research that painted their products as harmful, and so on. All of these are real and none of them are theories.
Likewise, things like 9/11 being an inside job, JFK being shot by multiple gunmen, chemtrails, the existence of an all-powerful New World Order, FEMA camps and any number of banking and currency related plots are all conspiracy theories. That is to say, they are all theories that a conspiracy took place – and most have little to no evidence supporting those theories.
Not only is there a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory, there are all manner of reasons why people would “conspire” about something – and they’re not all bad or harmful. There are perfectly legitimate reasons why a government or corporation would want to keep something secret, whether it’s a patented technology, proprietary research or a sensitive national security matter. Like it or not, not everyone gets to know everything.
With all of this in mind, I want to take a look at one of the lists I’ve been sent a couple of times. It’s representative of the general tone and content of the other lists, and has the added advantage of being from a reputable source, Business Insider. This is a good example of a list of “conspiracies” that is not a list of conspiracy theories, and isn’t even all “conspiracies.”
That’s a lot of qualifiers. To be on this list, the plot has to be huge (whatever that means), driven by the government, and proven to be a conspiracy that with compelling evidence to support its existence.
This is completely true. The Treasury, in its capacity to enforce the Volstead Act, added deadly chemicals to the industrial alcohol that was being used by bootleggers as a substitute for grain alcohol. While the poisoning became public knowledge very quickly, over 1,000 people still died in New York alone, thanks to this true conspiracy.
Another true conspiracy, and one that the CDC openly acknowledges – making up for decades of knowingly sickening hundreds of poor black men. But even during the heyday of the experiment, it was never a popularly discussed theory, and it’s been public knowledge for four decades.
Here’s a perfect example of something that’s not a conspiracy, certainly not a government conspiracy and not even true. The Business Insider piece relies on debunked testimony from anti-vaxxer Barbara Loe Fisher to back up the pseudoscience claim that millions of doses of Jonas Salk’s original formulation of the polio vaccine contained the “cancer causing virus” SV40. But no compelling evidence exists that SV40 actually causes any harm in humans (SV stands for simian virus), and virtually every source that makes this claim is strongly anti-vaccination.
The author of the BI piece is either anti-vaccine or fell for anti-vaccine propaganda.
This would indeed be a “huge government conspiracy” if it were true. As I wrote about in my piece on false flag attacks, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was actually two separate attacks on a US destroyer by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in August 1964. The first was an actual attack, with bullet holes in both the destroyer Maddox and the North Vietnamese boats to prove it.
The second was theorized even at the time to be a phantom attack, featuring jittery US sailors shooting at shadows. While we now know that this “attack” didn’t happen, there was a tremendous amount of confusion in the White House shortly afterwards, and subsequent tapes show President Johnson openly wondering what happened. It could be argued that there was a conspiracy to make the Incident fit the Johnson administration’s desire to expand US involvement in Vietnam, that’s a conspiracy of a different color.
Our world is full of things no one can explain, from mysterious ancient artifacts to really, really basic stuff we totally should have figured out by now. But once in a while, we do find an answer to one of these fascinating mysteries, and that answer is “just plain old stupid bullshit.” Here are four intriguing questions that should’ve remained unanswered (or just four unnecessarily elaborate cover-ups that prove the government has a sense of whimsy).
#4. “River of Blood” Turns Out to Be an Ink Spill
In late December, residents of the English village of Moulton were left somewhat confused and extremely creeped out when they woke up one morning and found that their local brook had been stained with the blood-red shades of murder. Or murders, because seriously, that’s a fuckload of red.
The villagers rushed to their laptops and informed various social media outlets of their running river of blood, some comparing it to a horror film and others quoting the Book of Revelations, fearing that it was the first sign of the apocalypse. So what was it? A bleeding whale? A serial killer convention? That creepy clown that recently showed up nearby? Nope, the red coloration was caused by nothing other than an ink spill. So the world won’t end, but the villagers may have to endure a red pen shortage for the next decade.
#3. Mysterious Crop Circle Is Just a Publicity Stunt
Another strange event at the end of 2013 that made people think the Mayans may have been off by a year was the mysterious crop circle that popped up in a farmer’s barley field in Chualar, California. The design was so intricately done that the farmer told CNN that he was “baffled” by its appearance.
Naturally, as soon as the story broke, crop circle experts all over the Internet wrote in-depth analyses that claimed to have decoded the secret alien message in the fields, with some of these Fox Mulders declaring that it meant a bright comet would appear this year (presumably foreshadowing some dragons). It was at this point that tech company Nvidia couldn’t contain its giggling any longer and revealed that the crop circle was actually a marketing stunt promoting their latest processing chip. It’s unclear if the farmer was in on the joke or if those dicks stomped his barley without telling him.