Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” is misleading the public again this year with several documentaries. So why are scientists allowing themselves to be featured in these pseudoscience disasters? There’s a simple reason: Shark Week producers have been lying to them.
Jonathan Davis, who now works for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, was studying the bull sharks in the Gulf of Mexico for his Masters research when he was approached by a Shark Week film crew. “They were interested in the sharks in Louisiana, and I was the person doing the research there,” Davis says. He agreed to take the film crew into the field, but quickly became concerned by their refusal to answer his questions.
I asked a few of the crew members, including the producer, what the show was going to be about. I never got a straight answer and the producer seemed to avoid the question. I was just told it would be combined with some other filming to make one show about Louisiana shark research.
Davis was shocked to find that his interview aired during a 2013 Shark Week special called Voodoo Shark, which was about a mythical monster shark called “Rooken” that lived in the Bayous of Louisiana. The “other filming” his interview was combined with featured a Bayou fishermen, and the clips were edited together to make it seem like a race between his team of researchers and the fishermen to see who could catch the mythical voodoo shark faster. In reality, Davis was barely asked about the voodoo shark at all. His answers from unrelated questions were edited together to make it seem like he believed in its existence and was searching for it.
Davis explained how the hoodwinking was done . . .
For the past few years, my Facebook page kept flagging strange websites that claimed that ordinary contrails formed by high-flying aircraft are “chemtrails,” a special kind of chemical sprayed on the unwitting population for reasons too bizarre and illogical to take seriously. For a long time, I’ve ignored this garbage on the internet, but in recent years it has gotten more and more pervasive, and I’ve run into people who believe it. There are whole shows about it on the once-scientific Discovery Channel, and the History Channel as well. Now the chemtrail community circulates their photos and videos among themselves, put hundreds of these videos on YouTube, and on their own sites and forums. But the way the internet works as a giant echo chamber for weird ideas with no peer review, fact checking, or quality control, it’s getting impossible to ignore them any more, and it’s time to debunk it.
The first few times I heard about “chemtrails”, my reaction was “You can’t be serious.” But the people who spread this are serious. They are generally people who have already accepted the conspiracy theory mindset, where everything that they don’t like or don’t understand is immediate proof of some big government conspiracy. But there’s an even bigger factor at work here: gross science illiteracy. The first thing that pops in my mind reading their strange ideas is “Didn’t this person learn any science in school?” And the fastest rebuttal I give when I run into one of these nuts is: “Do you even understand the first thing about our atmosphere? Anything released at 30,000 feet will blow for miles away from where you see it, and has virtually no chance of settling straight down onto the people below, and be so diluted it would have no measurable amount of the chemical by the time it lands. That’s why crop-dusting planes must fly barely 30 feet off the ground so their dust won’t blow too far away from the crops!”
If the chemtrail conspiracy were true, millions of pilots would be needed to crop dust the American population. A typical crop duster might use seven ounces of agent diluted in seven gallons of water to cover one acre of land. Chemtrail “people dusters” would use a similar concentration to cover the entire United States, just to be safe. For 2.38 billion acres of land, the pilots would then need—for just one week of spraying—120 billion gallons of these cryptic chemicals. That’s around the same volume as is transported in all the world’s oil tankers in one year. And such an incredible amount of agent would need an incredible number of planes. Considering that a large air freighter like a Boeing 747 can carry around 250,000 pounds of cargo, at the very least, the government would need to schedule four million 747 flights to spread their chemicals each week—eighteen times more flights per day than in the entire US.
The entire chemtrail conspiracy idea is a relatively recent one, and an idea that would not have become so popular without the ability of the internet to spread lies. As this site shows, it was an ideas that was simmering among conspiracy theorists in the 1990s when one person in particular, William Thomas, made it popular back in 1996. By 1997-1999, he was trying to spread his ideas through interviews and media coverage and early conspiracy internet sites, and gotten many believers to buy in to his bizarre fantasy. Then in 1999, he was featured on Paranormal Central, Art Bell’s show on Coast to Coast radio. If there is any fast way to reach the mob of UFO nuts, paranormal fanatics, and conspiracy theorists besides the internet, Art Bell’s show is the place. Soon the phenomenon exploded far beyond William Thomas or Art Bell, and became a widely accepted idea among the people who tune in to the paranormal or the conspiracy mindset.
So what are “chemtrails”? Allegedly, they are different from normal contrails produced by aircraft, and allegedly they contain some sort of evil chemical that the government conspiracy is trying to poison us with. Normal contrails are . . .
A Closer Look at Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives
A new two-hour Discovery Channel “documentary,” Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives, revisits the curious case of nine Russian skiers who died under unclear circumstances in the Ural mountains. It is packed with dramatic “found footage” recreations, dubious derring-do, a pulse-pounding score, and piles of speculation.
Here’s the premise, based on a press release for the show:
“On February 2, 1959, nine college students hiked up the icy slopes of the Ural Mountains in the heart of Russia but never made it out alive. Investigators have never been able to give a definitive answer behind who – or what – caused the bizarre crime scene. Fifty-five years later, American explorer Mike Libecki reinvestigates the mystery—known as The Dyatlov Pass incident—but what he uncovers is truly horrifying…. Based on diary accounts, forensic evidence and files that have just recently been released, Mike pieces together the graphic stories in search of what really happened that evening. According to the investigators at the time, the demise of the group was due to a ‘compelling natural force.’ The students’ slashed tent was discovered first with most of their clothing and equipment still inside. Next, the students’ bodies were found scattered across the campsite in three distinct groups, some partially naked and with strange injuries including crushed ribs, a fractured skull, and one hiker mutilated with her eyes gouged out and tongue removed… Mike first heard about the Dyatlov Pass incident on a climbing expedition in 2011 and since then has become obsessed with the case… Determined to find answers, Mike hires Russian translator Maria Klenokova to join him. Together, they set out to one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth. However, nothing prepared them for what they were about to discover. Following the trail of evidence, Mike finds proof that the hikers were not alone—a photograph, taken by one of the hikers a day before they died that suggests that they encountered a Yeti. But just how far will they go to find the answers?”
Focusing on the undisputed facts in this case, we know that after nearly a week of skiing the group led by Igor Dyatlov, at some point on the night of February 1-2, 1959, cut slits in their tent and left through the cut for the safety of the wooded area below, most of them wearing their underwear or a few scraps of clothing. After they failed to return, a rescue party was sent, and tracks were followed from the tent to the woods, where all the skiers were found, some of them many months later. According to the autopsy, the cause of death for all of them was hypothermia, or freezing to death; four of the nine also had internal injuries, and one of them, Ludmila Dubinina, was missing a tongue and had additional injuries to her eyes. The biggest mysteries are why the group abandoned their tent (with their supplies and clothes inside), apparently in a hurry through a cut in the fabric; and what caused their injuries.
There are many elements and claims to the Dyatlov Pass story, and many theories including UFOs, top-secret government conspiracies, and unusual natural phenomena. I won’t be addressing those claims (in fact as we will see there’s really no need to invoke those anyway), but instead focusing on the plausibility of the newest theory as promoted in the new Discovery Channel show: That a Yeti was responsible for the mass murder of nine Russians in 1959.
The Group’s Injuries
Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives begins with the premise that the injuries sustained by the skiers were so grave and extraordinary that could only have been inflicted by an inhumanly strong creature. The shows says that according to the autopsy, the hikers suffered “horrific injuries” including fractured ribs and a fractured skull attributed to a “compelling natural force” (in other words, some sort of blunt force trauma such as a fall or being crushed).
Unfortunately for the show, photographs of the dead hikers undermine most of the sensational claims. The photographs are crystal clear: the bodies were not “mutilated”. They were actually in fairly good shape for a party who had skied into the remote area, froze to death, and were discovered months later after exposure to the elements. Those who had cracked ribs were found at the bottom of a 13-foot ravine, and could have sustained the injuries falling into it, or at some point after their death during the months before they were found when buried by an avalanche or the weight of wet snow crushed them.
While a fractured skull might be considered “horrific” depending on your comfort with bodily trauma, according to the Mayo Clinic . . .
As of this writing, the Discovery Channel schedule shows the following broadcast dates and times for Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives:
- 6/8/2014 @ 8:00 pm
- 6/9/2014 @ 12:00 am
- 6/9/2014 @ 3:00 am
- Believing in the paranormal is actually more normal than you might think and may be growing more common.
- Contrary to common stereotypes, there is no single profile of a person who accepts the paranormal.
- It might be in our nature to look for patterns and meaning in strange and random events.
It’s that time of year again. Ghosts, goblins and other spooky characters come out from the shadows and into our everyday lives.
For most people, the thrill lasts for a few weeks each October. But for true believers, the paranormal is an everyday fact, not just a holiday joke.
To understand what drives some people to truly believe, two sociologists visited psychic fairs, spent nights in haunted houses, trekked with Bigfoot hunters, sat in on support groups for people who had been abducted by aliens, and conducted two nationwide surveys.
Contrary to common stereotypes, the research revealed no single profile of a person who accepts the paranormal. Believers ranged from free-spirited types with low incomes and little education to high-powered businessmen. Some were drifters; others were brain surgeons.
For some, the paranormal served as just another way of explaining the world. For others, extraordinary phenomena offered opportunities to chase mysteries, experience thrills and even achieve celebrity status, if they could actually find proof.
“It’s almost like an adult way to get that kidlike need for adventure and exploration,” said co-author Christopher Bader, of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “Other people are sitting at home and renting videos, but you’re sitting in a haunted house that is infested with demons.”
“These guys who are hunting Bigfoot are out chasing a monster,” he added. “I could see the real appeal in going out for weekend and never knowing what you might find.”
There is no hard data on how common it is to believe in the paranormal, which Bader and co-author Carson Mencken define as beliefs or experiences that are not fully accepted by science or religion.
But trends in television programming offer a sense that there is a widespread interest in . . .
- Judging Paranormal Claims: Group-think Is Not a Good Thing (illuminutti.com)
- Who you gonna call? Belief in ghosts is rising (telegraph.co.uk)
- Why Paranormal Investigators need Skeptics (and the other way around!) (yankeeskeptic.com)
- Unmasking the Paranormal: Exposing the truth of Haunted Houses, Ghosts and the Paranormal (endtimeheadlines.wordpress.com)
- Do Animals Have Spiritual Experiences? (lunaticoutpost.com)
The owners of a Texas ranch raided by police in 2011 based on false information from a psychic are now suing, along with police and several news organizations.
The case began June 6, when a psychic using the name ‘Angel’ called police and described a horrific scene of mass murder: dozens of dismembered bodies near a ranch house about an hour outside of Houston, Texas. There were rotting limbs, headless corpses and, chillingly, children in a mass grave.
Deputies from the Liberty County Sheriff’s office went to investigate but didn’t see anything amiss. After a second call the following day, dozens of officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the FBI and the Texas Rangers were on the scene—not to mention cadaver dogs, news helicopters and gawkers.
It all turned out to be a false alarm. There were no dead bodies; the psychic was wrong (or lying).
Though the incident became a national embarrassment, the police refused to apologize, saying that procedures were followed and that the severity of the claims warranted an investigation. Whether a tip comes from an ordinary citizen, an anonymous informant or a self-proclaimed psychic, information about mass murders cannot be ignored.
The ranch owners, Joe Bankson and Gena Charlton, were not amused and filed a lawsuit earlier this year. However, according to Anna Merlan of The Dallas Observer
Angel, who’d called in the tip by phone, vanished into the ether, leaving the couple to sue the media outlets for defamation and the sheriff’s office for unreasonable search and seizure. … Now, court records show that the plaintiffs seem to have located and sued the woman they think is an Angel in disguise. Her name is Presley Gridley, she goes by “Rhonda,” and she lives in Stanton, Texas, about 800 miles away from their farmhouse.
According to Merlan, a Liberty County blogger named Allen Youngblood did some detective work and discovered a call Gridley made to a nearby county Sheriff’s Department in which she told police to investigate a rural Texas farmhouse in search of two missing children who were the subject of an Amber Alert.
MORE . . .