Tag Archives: HowStuffWorks

Yes, Conspiracy Theorists’ Brains Really Are Different

by Alia Hoyt via HowStuffWorks

9-11 was an inside job. The moon landing was faked. Vaccines cause autism. These are just a few of the most well-known conspiracy theories perpetuated by otherwise intelligent, everyday people. But why do some people believe these things and others don’t? Scientists are one step closer to figuring that out, and it appears that the answer lies within the brains of the theorists’ themselves, which affects how they see they world.

Scientists had long hypothesized that conspiracy theory belief (which the researchers of a new paper define as “the assumption that a group of people colludes together in secret to attain evil goals”) was due to a phenomenon known as “illusory pattern perception” — seeing patterns where none really exist. But few studies had been done to support this. So, the British and Dutch scientists conducted a series of experiments to fill that void. Their paper was published recently in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

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Does aspartame cause MS?

aspartame
howstuffworks_iconby Laurie L. Dove via HowStuffWorks

For 10 years, Nancy drank diet soda — sometimes as many as four or five a day. Otherwise, she ate and drank in moderation, exercised regularly and got plenty of sleep. Then one day, as Nancy picked up her glass of diet soda, it slipped from her fingers and crashed to the floor. Shocked, Nancy tried again, only to discover her hand wouldn’t properly respond. The problems subsisted for weeks, then her legs began to buckle and her vision to blur. Eventually, Nancy’s doctor diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.

The idea that aspartame causes MS most likely stems from a chain email.

The idea that aspartame causes MS most likely stems from a chain email.

Desperate to know more about MS, Nancy scoured the Internet for answers. She learned MS usually strikes between ages 20 and 40, that it affects women more often than men and that scientists don’t yet understand its root cause (source: WebMD). Then she came across an obscure message board and realized she might have a clue after all. There might be a link between aspartame and MS. Wasn’t that the ingredient in all the diet sodas she’d had over the years?

While the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation stops short of saying aspartame — or any additive, for that matter — is 100 percent safe, it doesn’t subscribe to the notion that aspartame causes MS. Aspartame was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in carbonated beverages, and other beverages and foods in the 1980s. After a volley of complaints from consumers experiencing everything from insomnia to diarrhea after ingesting carbonated beverages containing aspartame, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated aspartame’s use and concluded there wasn’t any evidence that it caused these symptoms. More to the point, the CDC failed to find a link between aspartame and the onset of MS (source: Guthrie).

The idea that aspartame causes MS most likely stems from a supposed first-hand account of an aspartame expert that has persisted on the Internet and in chain e-mails since the 1990s. Although this article is frequently attributed to the author “Nancy Merkle,” nobody has ever come forward to take credit and the article contains no citations (source: Guthrie).

The FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research refuted the claims made in the account, which linked aspartame to a number of diseases and maladies, including MS. According to the FDA, aspartame is one of the most frequently tested food additives and there’s no evidence to support a link between aspartame and MS (source: Hattan). That’s good news for Nancy and others who drink diet beverages and opt for “low-cal” foods containing aspartame.

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How Spontaneous Human Combustion Works

by via HowStuffWorks

spontaneous human combustion 1123bIn December 1966, the body of 92-year-old Dr. J. Irvin­g Bentley was discovered in his Pennsylvania home by a meter reader. Actually, only part of Dr. Bentley’s leg and slippered foot were found. The rest of his body had been burned to ashes. A hole in the bathroom floor was the only evidence of the fire that had killed him; the rest of the house remained perfectly intact.

­How could a man catch fire — with no apparent source of a spark or flame — and then burn so completely without igniting anything around him? Dr. Bentley’s case and several hundred others like it have been labeled “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC). Although he and other victims of the phenomenon burned almost completely, their surroundings, and even sometimes their clothes, remained virtually untouched.

Can humans spontaneously burst into flames? A lot of people think spontaneous human combustion is a real occurrence, but most scientists aren’t convinced.

In this article, we will look at the strange phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion, see what believers have to say about it and try to separate the scientific truth from the myths.

What is Spontaneous Human Combustion?

spontaneous human combustion 707Spontaneous combustion occurs when an object — in the case of spontaneous human combustion, a person — bursts into flame from a chemical reaction within, apparently without being ignited by an external heat source.

The first known account of spontaneous human combustion came from the Danish anatomist Thomas Bartholin in 1663, who described how a woman in Paris “went up in ashes and smoke” while she was sleeping. The straw mattress on which she slept was unmarred by the fire. In 1673, a Frenchman named Jonas Dupont published a collection of spontaneous combustion cases in his work “De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis.”

The hundreds of spontaneous human combustion accounts since that time have followed a similar pattern: The victim is almost completely consumed, usually inside his or her home. Coroners at the scene have sometimes noted a sweet, smoky smell in the room where the incident occurred.

spontaneous human combustion 1143_250pxWhat makes the charred bodies in the photos of spontaneous human combustion so peculiar is that the extremities often remain intact. Although the torso and head are charred beyond recognition, the hands, feet, and/or part of the legs may be unburned. Also, the room around the person shows little or no signs of a fire, aside from a greasy residue that is sometimes left on furniture and walls. In rare cases, the internal organs of a victim remain untouched while the outside of the body is charred.

Not all spontaneous human combustion victims simply burst into flames. Some develop strange burns on their body which have no obvious source, or emanate smoke from their body when no fire is present. And not every person who has caught fire has died — a small percentage of people have actually survived what has been called their spontaneous combustion.

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What happens at Bohemian Grove?

Via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube

For decades rumors about Bohemian Grove have run wild through the conspiracy world — but what actually happens at Bohemian Grove?

What is going on during a near-death experience?

by via HowStuffWorks

near-death-tunnel_200pxA man we’ll call Joe recalls plunging into darkness and seeing a bright light. He remembers a field of flowers and a figure in white who spoke to him about his future. The next thing he recalls is awakening to discover that during the time he’d experienced this vision, he’d actually been lying on an operating table with doctors hovering over him, frantically trying to restart his stopped heart.

You’ve probably heard stories similar to this one, which was recounted in a 2006 New Scientist article. What Joe remembers experiencing is called a near-death experience (NDE). Reportedly, about 10 to 20 percent of people who survive heart attacks experience an NDE (source: Callaway). Written accounts of NDEs go back to ancient times. Usually, they involve euphoria, tunnels, bright lights, ethereal beings or some combination of those phenomena. Some people report seeing a high-speed replay of memories — aka, their lives flash before their eyes.

astralt_250pxNobody really knows what NDEs are, or how and why they occur, though there are widely-ranging opinions. Those who believe in the metaphysical think that during an NDE, a seriously ill or injured person’s soul leaves the physical body and journeys to the entrance of the afterlife. There, for whatever reason, he or she is turned away and sent back to resume Earthly life — sometimes with a newfound insight about life’s purpose.

Physicians and neuroscientists who’ve searched for a less mystical explanation for NDEs suspect they’re hallucinations, somehow caused by the process of the dying brain shutting down. Over the years, some have theorized that NDEs result when the brain is deprived of oxygen, or when a mysterious, yet-unverified chemical binds itself to neurons in an effort to protect them from that deprivation. Still others think that the brain’s impending shutdown triggers a flood of euphoria-causing endorphins, or electrical discharges in the hippocampus (the brain area involved in memory), while others think the state is caused by the side effects of anesthesia or medications.

neurotransmitters_150pxHowever, so far, science has failed to come up with an airtight explanation for NDEs. In the largest-ever study of the phenomenon, published in the Lancet in 2001, Dutch physicians interviewed 344 mostly elderly hospital patients who survived brushes with death in which their hearts stopped. Only 18 percent of them reported experiencing NDEs, and the researchers found no link to the amount of time they were in cardiac arrest, or the drugs they were given.

Since then, a 2010 study published in the journal Clinical Care offers yet another possible explanation.

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10 Tips for Telling Fact From Fiction

by via HowStuffWorks

[ . . . ]

10: Beware of Cognitive Bias

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs.

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.

Our brains are designed to make sense of the onslaught of sensory stimulation and information that they get from the world by filtering and organizing. We have a tendency to focus on certain details and ignore others, to avoid being overwhelmed. And we habitually organize information into patterns, based on things we’ve seen or learned about before. That leads us to process what we hear, read or see in a way that reinforces what we think we already know. That phenomenon is called cognitive bias (source: Science Daily).

To make matters worse, some theorize that we also engage in selective exposure — that is, we pick sources of information that tell us what we want to hear. Ohio State researchers, for example, found that when college students spent a few minutes reading news articles online, they selected ones that supported their already-held views 58 percent of the time (source: Hsu).

 The famous 1934 photograph of the Loch Ness monster. Just before his death in 1994, Chris Spurling confessed that he and some other men had staged the picture. Keystone/Getty Images

The Loch Ness monster
Keystone/Getty Images

So, we’re vulnerable to information that fits what we want to believe — even if it’s of dubious authenticity. That’s probably why the infamous photograph of the Loch Ness monster, taken in 1934 (source: Nickell), was so convincing for many people. The silhouette resembled a long-necked dinosaur, which was something they had seen pictures of in natural history textbooks. And the idea that ancient creatures might have survived extinction already had surfaced in fiction such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel “The Lost World,” so it wasn’t too much of a leap conceptually. It wasn’t until 1994 that researchers got an elderly man who had been part of the hoax to reveal that the monster in the photo actually was a foot-high model, fashioned from a toy submarine (source: Associated Press).

9: Pay Attention to the Unspoken Message

Used-Car-Salesman_250pxIf you’ve ever sold used cars or peddled vacuum sweepers door-to-door, you probably know this from experience: Researchers have found that an attractive physical appearance and positive nonverbal cues, like eye contact, smiling and a pleasant tone of voice, may have as much or more of an influence upon us than the actual words that the person is saying. In fact, someone who is skilled at nonverbal messaging can actually foster what communication experts call a halo effect. That is, if we think that a person looks good, we assume that he or she is intelligent or capable as well. That’s a big help in fostering credibility (source: Eadie). But just as a salesperson can learn to project a convincing demeanor, a swindler or a dishonest politician can practice the same tricks.

However, other nonverbal cues provide useful information for evaluating whether someone is telling the truth or a lie. Researchers who’ve studied the questioning of criminal suspects, for example, note that even highly motivated, skillful liars have a tendency to “leak” nonverbal clues to their deception in the course of a long interview, because of the difficulty of managing facial expressions, physical carriage, and tone of voice over time. The trick is to watch for those tiny flaws in the subject’s demeanor to emerge.

When making an untrue statement, for example, a person may flash a “microexpression”– a frown, perhaps, or a grimace — that reflects his or her true emotions, but clashes with what the person is saying. Since some of this microexpressions may happen as quickly as the blink of an eye, the easiest way to detect them is by replaying a video. But it is possible to do it in a real-time conversation as well. U.S. Coast Guard investigators trained in spotting such leakage, for example, have been able to spot such clues about 80 percent of the time (source: Matsumoto, et al.).

8: Watch for the Big Lie

 Master of the Big Lie, Adolf Hitler is welcomed by supporters at Nuremberg. Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Master of the Big Lie, Adolf Hitler is welcomed by supporters at Nuremberg.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Throughout history, purveyors of falsehoods seldom have bothered with piddling minor fibs. Instead, they generally have opted for what propaganda experts call the “Big Lie” — that is, a blatant, outrageous falsehood about some important issue, and one that’s usually designed to inflame listeners’ emotions and provoke them to whatever action the liar has in mind. The Big Lie is most often associated with Adolf Hitler, who advised in his book “Mein Kampf” that the “primitive simplicity” of ordinary people makes them vulnerable to massive deceptions. “It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and would not believe that others would have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously,” the Nazi dictator wrote.

Ironically, even as he explained the method of the Big Lie, he used it to promote an especially brazen untruth — that Jews and Communists somehow had deceived the German people into thinking that their nation’s loss in World War I was caused by reckless, incompetent military leaders. The Nazi dictator was onto something, though perhaps even his own twisted mind didn’t grasp it: Some of the most effective Big Lies are accusations of someone else being a liar (source: Hitler).

Hitler, of course, didn’t invent the Big Lie, and a liar doesn’t necessarily have to be a bloodthirsty dictator to pull it off. But the best way to protect yourself against the Big Lie is to be an educated, well-informed person who’s got a broad base of knowledge and context. Sadly, we live in a culture where fewer and fewer people seem to have that background. In a 2011, Newsweek gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. citizenship test; more than a third scored a failing grade — 60 percent or lower — to questions such as “How many justices are on the Supreme Court?” and “Who did the U.S. fight in World War II?” That’s kind of scary (source: Quigley).

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How Conspiracy Theories Work

By via HowStuffWorks

Are you the kind of person who likes to hear to a good conspiracy theory?

ALEXJONESFOIL_250pxSome people simply do not like the discomfort that a conspiracy theory creates. But for others, conspiracy theories are intriguing. They like to explore all of the possibilities that a conspiracy theory presents, in the same way that they like to explore puzzles or mystery novels. Sometimes a conspiracy theory is ridiculous and learning about it is a form of entertainment. Or you may find that the theory is credible and it makes you think. It’s interesting to consider the theory, weigh the evidence and come up with a conclusion.

In the 21st century, one event reigns supreme in the catalog of conspiracy theories: the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States. This event is seared into the nation’s consciousness and significantly affected the entire planet. It seems inevitable that people would cry “conspiracy” about any event with this much impact. However, the conspiracy theories around 9/11 have been strong and consistent.

The whole controversy surrounding 9/11 boils down to one simple question:

airplane_500px_2Did 19 terrorists cause all of the destruction witnessed on 9/11/2001, or did a group of people in the U.S. government conspire to create that destruction for political gain?

The U.S. government has offered the terrorist explanation, and that is the story that many people believe. A large number of people, however, refuse to believe this “official story.” They believe conspiracy theorists when they say that the U.S. government actually masterminded and executed the attack.

We could spend a great deal of time arguing one side or the other. Instead, we’ll focus on the process. Isn’t it fascinating that there can be two credible explanations for such a complex event, and that both explanations can be so diametrically opposed to one another?

How does a conspiracy theory like this get started? What is required to fuel it into a full-fledged public debate? Can the theory ever be proven? What does the possibility of the theory say about our society? In this article we will explore these questions and many others as we look at the events of September 11.

Conspiracy Theory Basics

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Image courtesy Amazon
Oliver Stone‘s 1991 film “JFK” addresses a controversial version of the events surrounding John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

The dictionary defines a conspiracy theory in this way: A theory seeking to explain a disputed case or matter as a plot by a secret group or alliance rather than an individual or isolated act. A conspiracy theorist, therefore, is a person who formulates such a theory.

There is a certain negative undertone to the term “conspiracy theory” in today’s society. Detractors will point out that many conspiracy theories contain certain features that undermine their credibility. In this article, however, we will use the term “conspiracy theory” in its neutral sense. We are using it to mean an alternative explanation for an event, as it is defined in the dictionary.

In modern times there have been a number of “conspiracy theories.” One example is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After the assassination, the government offered its explanation of the events. A large number of people (at one point, more than half of the adult population in the United States) simply do not believe the government’s explanation. This particular conspiracy theory rose to such a high level in the public consciousness that an entire Hollywood movie was made about it: “JFK”, directed by Oliver Stone and released in 1991.

The Kennedy assassination really started the modern “conspiracy theory” movement. This is an event where the “official” government explanation of the crime was openly ridiculed by a large number of “normal citizens.” Many people believe that the Kennedy assassination was carried out as part of a larger government-centered conspiracy, rather than as a random event arranged by a single gunman.

In the same way, a very large number of people do not believe that “terrorists” carried out the events seen on 9/11. Instead, they believe that the government caused those events.

Next, we’ll look at how conspiracy theories get started.

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What was “Operation Snow White”?

via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube

Did agents of the Church of Scientology really infiltrate the US government? If so, then how widespread was the infiltration? What was its alleged purpose? What does the Church have to say about the accusations? Tune in to learn more about the fact, fiction and controversy surrounding the Snow White program.

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How Spontaneous Human Combustion Works

by via HowStuffWorks

Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) describes reported cases of the burning of a living (or very recently deceased) human body without an apparent external source of ignition.

Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) describes reported cases of the burning of a living (or very recently deceased) human body without an apparent external source of ignition.

In December 1966, the body of 92-year-old Dr. J. Irvin­g Bentley was discovered in his Pennsylvania home by a meter reader. Actually, only part of Dr. Bentley’s leg and slippered foot were found. The rest of his body had been burned to ashes. A hole in the bathroom floor was the only evidence of the fire that had killed him; the rest of the house remained perfectly intact.

­How could a man catch fire — with no apparent source of a spark or flame — and then burn so completely without igniting anything around him? Dr. Bentley’s case and several hundred others like it have been labeled “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC). Although he and other victims of the phenomenon burned almost completely, their surroundings, and even sometimes their clothes, remained virtually untouched.

Can humans spontaneously burst into flames? A lot of people think spontaneous human combustion is a real occurrence, but most scientists aren’t convinced.

In this article, we will look at the strange phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion, see what believers have to say about it and try to separate the scientific truth from the myths.

What is Spontaneous Human Combustion?

spontaneous human combustion 1143_250px

Spontaneous combustion occurs when an object — in the case of spontaneous human combustion, a person — bursts into flame from a chemical reaction within, apparently without being ignited by an external heat source.

The first known account of spontaneous human combustion came from the Danish anatomist Thomas Bartholin in 1663, who described how a woman in Paris “went up in ashes and smoke” while she was sleeping. The straw mattress on which she slept was unmarred by the fire. In 1673, a Frenchman named Jonas Dupont published a collection of spontaneous combustion cases in his work “De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis.”

The hundreds of spontaneous human combustion accounts since that time have followed a similar pattern: The victim is almost completely consumed, usually inside his or her home. Coroners at the scene have sometimes noted a sweet, smoky smell in the room where the incident occurred.

What makes the charred bodies in the photos of spontaneous human combustion so peculiar is that the extremities often remain intact. Although the torso and head are charred beyond recognition, the hands, feet, and/or part of the legs may be unburned. Also, the room around the person shows little or no signs of a fire, aside from a greasy residue that is sometimes left on furniture and walls. In rare cases, the internal organs of a victim remain untouched while the outside of the body is charred.

Not all spontaneous human combustion victims simply burst into flames. Some develop strange burns on their body which have no obvious source, or emanate smoke from their body when no fire is present. And not every person who has caught fire has died — a small percentage of people have actually survived what has been called their spontaneous combustion.

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Why does the North Pole move?

From the “Almost Too Stupid to Post” file . . .

Almost too stupid_wide_250pxThis post is for all those doomsayers building backyard bunkers in preparation for the day the world comes to an end because of the north and south poles shifting.

Yes, some people fear the day the north and south poles shift their positions or even reverse positions. They believe such a shift in the Earth’s magnetic field will result in earthquakes, tsunamis, global climatic change and eventually the destruction of our planet.

(As a side note: Are there ANY conspiracy theories out there that DON’T end with everybody being annihilated or the planet being destroyed? Just asking. I’m beginning to suspect there is a conspiracy to NOT have any conspiracies with a happy ending. But i digress . . . :))

The following article explains the regularity of pole shifting. Apparently, the poles have only been shifting every hour of everyday for a gazillion years. The north and south poles have even swapped positions 400 times in the last 330,000,000 years.

So open your bunker doors dear doomsdayers, it’s safe to crawl out – – – and don’t forget your compasses.

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)

by via HowStuffWorks

Click for larger view.
In the last 150 years, the pole has wandered a total of about 685 miles (1102 kilometers).
Image courtesy Kenai National Wildlife

The Earth has several poles, not just two. It has geographic north and south poles, which are the points that mark the Earth’s axis of rotation. It also has magnetic north and south poles, based on the planet’s magnetic field. When you use a compass, it points to the magnetic north pole, not the geographic North Pole.

The Earth’s magnetic poles move. The magnetic North Pole moves in loops of up to 50 miles (80 km) per day. But its actual location, an average of all these loops, is also moving at around 25 miles a year [ref]. In the last 150 years, the pole has wandered a total of about 685 miles (1102 kilometers). The magnetic South Pole moves in a similar fashion.

The poles can also switch places. Scientists can study when this has happened by examining rocks on the ocean floor that retain traces of the field, similar to a recording on a magnetic tape. The last time the poles switched was 780,000 years ago, and it’s happened about 400 times in 330 million years. Each reversal takes a thousand years or so to complete, and it takes longer for the shift to take effect at the equator than at the poles. The field has weakened about 10% in the last 150 years. Some scientists think this is a sign of a flip in progress.

The Earth’s physical structure is behind all this magnetic shifting. The planet’s inner core is made of solid iron. Surrounding the inner core is a molten outer core. The next layer out, the mantle, is solid but malleable, like plastic. Finally, the layer we see every day is called the crust.

The Earth itself spins on its axis. The inner core spins as well, and it spins at a different rate than the outer core. This creates a dynamo effect, or convections and currents within the core. This is what creates the Earth’s magnetic field — it’s like a giant electromagnet.

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What are chemtrails, and should you be scared of them?

via HowStuffWorks

Is there something sinister in airplane contrails?

Is there something sinister in airplane contrails?

The trail of clouds that billow from an airplane streaking across the sky can be mesmerizing for children and adults alike. Jet engine traffic has become so common that it’s not unusual to see several lingering streaks in the afternoon. And though many consider the streaks beautiful against a bright blue sky, others are alarmed about them. Concerns range from the idea that these streaks could exacerbate global warming to more elaborate theories that the government has secretly been dumping harmful substances on the land.

Before we get into the various theories about the possible harmful effects, let’s discuss the scientific explanation for these streaks. Jet engines spew out very hot air. And, because water vapor is one of the byproducts of the exhaust, the air is also very humid. However, high in the atmosphere where these jets fly, the air is typically very cold — often lower than -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the atmosphere up there is often of low vapor pressure, or the force exerted by a gas on the surrounding environment.

When a jet engine is spewing out hot, humid air into an atmosphere that is cold and has low vapor pressure, the result is condensation. The water vapor coming out of the engine quickly condenses into water droplets and then crystallizes into ice. The ice crystals are the clouds that form behind the engine. This is why the streaks are called contrails, short for “condensation trails.” To help explain it, scientists liken it to seeing your breath on cold days. You may have noticed that puffs of breath dissipate quickly on dryer days. The same is true of contrails: When the atmosphere is more humid, the contrails linger, but when the atmosphere is dry, the contrails disappear more quickly.

This explanation makes sense. But, as author and airline pilot Patrick Smith tells readers, the contrails consist of not just ice crystals and water vapor but also other byproducts of engine exhaust. These include carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfate particles and soot (source: Smith). Some point out that these, in addition to the extra cloud cover, can have negative environmental effects. And conspiracy theorists have nicknamed contrails “chemtrails” under the suspicion that the government is taking advantage of this scientific phenomenon to secretly release other substances into the atmosphere.

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Is the Winchester House haunted?

Why does the Winchester Mystery House have stairs leading nowhere?

via HowStuffWorks

Is this sprawling mansion haunted or just oddly designed? Photo courtesy ­Winchester My­stery House, San Jose, CA

Is this sprawling mansion haunted or just oddly designed?
Photo courtesy ­Winchester My­stery House, San Jose, CA

Most of us want to get home construction over as soon as possible. We worry about the expense and complain about the inconvenience. But for Sarah Winchester, construction was a way of life. For 38 years, she had construction going 24 hours a day at her home in San Jose, Calif. This was no ordinary construction job, though; the house is an oddball labyrinth of rooms that at one point reached seven stories. It’s filled with weird things like stairs and doors that go nowhere. And I haven’t even mentioned the ghosts

Sarah Winchester didn’t always want to build a haunted mansion. Born in 1839, Sarah Pardee was one of the social stars of New Haven, Conn. Although she only stood 4 feet 10 inches, she was known for her beauty and her sparkling personality. In 1862, Sarah married William Winchester, who was the heir of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The company had developed the repeating rifle, a gun that was easy to reload and fired rapidly, at a rate of one shot every three seconds. The gun was used by Northern troops in the Civil War and was also known as “the gun that won the West” Silva.

winchester-mystery-house-2_300px

You won’t get far if you follow the stairs to nowhere.
Photo courtesy Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, CA

The young couple started a family in 1866, but their daughter, Annie, died in infancy, a blow that Mrs. Winchester never recovered from. Mr. Winchester died of tuberculosis 15 years later. Distraught over these losses, she visited a medium for spiritual guidance.

The medium told her that the Winchester family had been struck by a terrible curse and was haunted by the ghosts of all those killed by the Winchester rifle. Their spirits were seeking vengeance, and the only way to appease them was to build a house for them. The ghosts had another request: that the house never be completed. Never stop building, the medium told Mrs. Winchester, or you will die. We can’t know exactly how she interpreted this advice; she might have thought the spirits would get her if she stopped, or she might have seen continuous construction as a path to eternal life.

Mrs. Winchester headed west to build a home for herself and her ghosts. She bought a six-room farmhouse on 162 acres in California and set to work building, a task that would occupy her until her death 38 years later. But how did she end up with such a weird house? Why did she construct stairs that went nowhere and doors that opened into walls?

Find out on the next page . . .

History of the Roswell UFO Incident

Via How Stuff Works

ufo-crash1-200x225On the evening of July 2, 1947, several witnesses in and near Roswell, New Mexico, observed a disc-shaped object moving swiftly in a northwesterly direction through the sky. The following morning Mac Brazel, foreman of a ranch located near tiny Corona, New Mexico, rode out on horseback to move sheep from one field to another. Accompanying him was a young neighbor boy, Timothy D. Proctor. As they rode, they came upon strange debris — various-size chunks of metallic material — running from one hilltop, down an arroyo, up another hill, and running down the other side. To all appearances some kind of aircraft had exploded.

In fact Brazel had heard something that sounded like an explosion the night before, but because it happened during a rainstorm (though it was different from thunder), he had not looked into the cause. Brazel picked up some of the pieces. He had never seen anything like them. They were extremely light and very tough.

By the time events had run their course, the world would be led to believe that Brazel had found the remains of a weather balloon. For three decades, only those directly involved in the incident would know this was a lie. And in the early 1950s, when an enterprising reporter sought to re-investigate the story, those who knew the truth were warned to tell him nothing.

Major Jesse Marcel from the Roswell Army Air Field with debris found 75 miles north west of Roswell, N.M., in 1947. The debris was identified as that of a radar target.

The cover-up did not begin to unravel until the mid-1970s, when two individuals who had been in New Mexico in 1947 separately talked with investigator Stanton T. Friedman about what they had observed. One, an Albuquerque radio station employee, had witnessed the muzzling of a reporter and the shutting down of an in-progress teletyped news story about the incident. The other, an Army Air Force intelligence officer, had led the initial recovery operation. The officer, retired Maj. Jesse A. Marcel, stated flatly that the material was of unearthly origin.

The uncovering of the truth about the Roswell incident — so called because it was from Roswell Field, the nearest Air Force base, that the recovery operation was directed — would be an excruciatingly difficult process. It continues to this day, even after publication of three books and massive documentation gleaned from interviews with several hundred persons as well as other evidence. Besides being the most important case in UFO history — the one with the potential not to settle the issue of UFOs but to identify them as extraterrestrial spacecraft — the Roswell incident is also the most fully investigated. The principal investigators have been Friedman, William L. Moore (coauthor of the first of the books, The Roswell Incident [1980]), Kevin D. Randle, and Donald R. Schmitt. Randle and Schmitt, associated with the Chicago-based Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), authored the most comprehensive account so far, UFO Crash at Roswell (1991). From this research, the outlines of a complex, bizarre episode have emerged.

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This photo is from the Air Force’s ‘Roswell Report,’ released June 24, 1997. It is said to show insulation bags used to protect temperature sensitive equipment. (Photo: AP)

How Area 51 Works

via HowStuffWorks

UFO Area51_300pxLess than 100 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada is the most famous secret military installation on the planet. Rumors swirl around this base, much like the mysterious aircraft that twist and turn in the skies overhead. Although it’s known by many names, most people call it by the Atomic Energy Commission‘s (AEC) designation: Area 51.

There are several theories about how Area 51 got its name. The most popular is that the facility borders the Nevada Test Site (NTS). The AEC used the NTS as testing grounds for nuclear bombs. The NTS is mapped as a grid of squares that are numbered from one to 30 (with a few omissions). Area 51, while not part of this grid, borders Area 15. Many say the site got the name Area 51 by transposing the 1 and 5 of its neighbor. Another popular theory is that the number 51 was chosen because it was not likely to be used as part of the NTS system in the future (in case the NTS expanded later on).

The first documented use of the name Area 51 comes from a film made by the company Lockheed Martin. There are also declassified documents from the 1960s and 1970s that refer to a facility called Area 51. Today, officials refer to the facility as an operating location near Groom Lake when speaking to the public — all official names for the site appear to be classified.

area_510_250pxThe name alone inspires thoughts of government conspiracies, secret “black” aircraft and alien technologies. Facts, myths and legends weave together in such a way that it can become difficult to separate reality from fiction. What exactly goes on in this installation? Why did the government alternatively acknowledge and deny its existence until the 1990s? Why is the airspace over it so restricted that even military aircraft are forbidden from flying through it? And, what does it have to do with Roswell, New Mexico?

Each question seems to have a million different answers. Some answers are plausible, while others stretch credulity so far that if someone said it out loud, you might feel the urge to back away from them slowly. In this article, we’ll look at the facts as far as anyone outside of the facility can determine them and examine the more popular theories about Area 51.

Where is Area 51?

Area 51’s coordinates are 37°14’36.52″N, 115°48’41.16″W. You can get a great view of it using Google Earth. Just type “Area 51” into the “Fly To” field and the map does the rest. For decades, the base remained hidden from almost everyone, but in 1988 a Soviet satellite photographed the base. Several publications acquired the photos and published them. The secrecy of the base is still of paramount importance, but as far as satellite coverage is concerned, the cat is out of the bag.

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Nothing to see here.According to the U.S. government these buildings don't exist.

What buildings? Keep moving along. Nothing to see here.
According to the U.S. government these buildings don’t exist.

Why do some people believe the moon landings were a hoax?

moon_dog_600px

via How Stuff Works

Ever since NASA broadcast its visits to the moon between 1969 and 1972 to millions of people around Earth, conspiracy theorists have debated endlessly over ph­otographs and video of the journey. Judging by the dedication some have to the cause, the subject of whether or not the moon landings were a hoax rivals only the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the presence of Area 51 in popularity. The Fox Network even aired a television special in 2001, nearly 30 years after the last Apollo mission, titled “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?”

Moon-Landing-Hoax-250pxPoring over every single detail for inconsistencies and potential government tampering, people who buy the moon landing conspiracy theory strive to prove NASA never went to the moon — instead, they believe the organization filmed a series of fake moon landings in a studio, complete with props, astronaut costumes and intricate lighting setups.

But why would NASA and the U.S. government pull off such a strange stunt? The moon landings took place during the Cold War and a tense point in the nuclear arms race, an era in which the two world superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union (or what is now Russia), competed for technological superiority. Some believe that because sending astronauts into outer space and onto the moon would be incredibly expensive, the U.S. didn’t have enough money to complete the project. According to the conspiracy theorists, faking the moon landings would be much cheaper — if it were convincing enough, it could still send a message to Russia that the United States had the better technology.

What are some of the claims by the moon landing conspiracy theorists? What have they pointed out, and do their arguments have any validity? And what do scientists have to say about these conspiracy theories? To get answers to these questions and more, put on your tin foil hats and read the next page.

Discovery NASA: Apollo 8 Mission Overview

The Moon Landing Hoax Evidence

So what sort of evidence have conspiracy theorists gathered that might suggest the whole event was a fake? Nearly 40 years of research has given them some interesting points:

1. There aren’t any stars in the background.

One detail doubters often point to is the background of many of the NASA photos. In pictures of the moon’s landscapes, there aren’t any stars in the sky — it just looks like a big, black void of space. Since the moon has no atmosphere, shouldn’t there be millions of stars dotting the background of these photos? If the landings were faked on a studio stage, did the photographers make a huge mistake and just forget to “turn on” the stars?

Unfortunately for conspiracy theorists, the nature of photography strikes down their argument.

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Related: Conspiracy Theorist Convinces Neil Armstrong Moon Landing Was Faked

Did the moon doom the Titanic?

«What if the iceberg was just a patsy for a larger, celestial conspiracy?»

via How Stuff Works

titanic_300pxIt’s a tale as old as crime and as cold as the heart of the sea: One dark and moonless night, an innocent young luxury liner wanders into a dangerous North Atlantic alley — a known haunt of iceberg gangs. Heedless of warnings about this dangerous element, the ship hurries onward, possessed of that sense of invulnerability to which the young are prone.

On any other night, the White Star liner might have made it through unscathed, but tonight — April 14, 1912 — the icebergs are out in force, and the infamous, inevitable rendezvous with destiny occurs. The Titanic succumbs to its wounds within hours, leaving around 1,500 people to die in the icy waters on April 15, 1912.

Case closed — or is it? What if the iceberg was just a patsy for a larger, celestial conspiracy? Who — or what — was ultimately to blame for the Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage? Should we blame it on Rio? The rain? The bossa nova? Or was it an act of lunar-cy?

titanic-anniversary-3-that-which-remains1_200pxArmchair sleuths and industry experts have reopened the case countless times. Over the past century, researchers, authors and filmmakers have blamed the incident on everyone from White Star management and Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard to Captain E. J. Smith and helmsman Robert Hitchins. But there’s a difference between proximate (close, direct) cause and ultimate cause. The proximate cause of the Titanic sinking? Filling with too much water. The ultimate cause? An iceberg opening holes in its side.

Ultimate causes tend to chain backward to other causes, and still others, inviting more questions along the way. What forces, for example, brought that iceberg to that particular stretch of sea at that fateful moment?

According to one hypothesis advanced by a team of astronomers from Texas State University-San Marcos, the iceberg might have been the button man, but our celestial companion was the one who ordered the hit. More than that, the moon had accomplices.

Granted, our nearest neighbor has an airtight alibi: It was roughly a quarter of a million miles away at the time. In fact, the Titanic sank on a moonless night. Why was the moon concealing its face? What did it have to hide?

It’s time to crack this coldest of cold cases.

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Why do people believe things that science has proved untrue?

Via HowStuffWorks

Why do some people still believe Earth is flat? Thousands of people across the planet believe that the world is flat. Why? Their 'evidence,' while not convincing, is certainly bizarre. Tune in and learn more about one of the craziest conspiracy theories on Earth in this episode.

Why do some people still believe Earth is flat?
Thousands of people across the planet believe that the world is flat. Why? Their ‘evidence,’ while not convincing, is certainly bizarre. Tune in and learn more about one of the craziest conspiracy theories on Earth in this episode.

Nearly half of Americans are sure that life began no more than 10,000 years ago [Diethelm]. This would have humans and dinosaurs co-existing, make carbon-dating a fraud and outright dismiss any evidence of evolution.

Creationists are not alone. About one-fifth of Americans believe vaccines can cause autism, even after the discovery that the study data used to make the connection was faked [Gross, CNN]. A 2010 Gallop poll found that half of the U.S. population thinks human actions have nothing to do with climate change, despite the countless studies linking the effect to CO2 emissions [Rettig].

Don’t forget these, either: Smoking does not cause cancer; sex positions can help you conceive your gender of choice; raw milk can’t really do any harm.

The thinking might be rational in people who don’t buy science at all — no germs leading to illness, no evolution or genetic code, no “heat-retention” nonsense. But in those who do believe in the principles of science, in the scientific method and in most of its conclusions, how does this happen?

Psychologists call it “belief perseverance,” and it’s a widely studied phenomenon. All of us fall prey to it to some extent, but some people are more prone to it than others.

What exactly is at work here? To put it very simply, the human mind will go to great lengths to keep the peace.

Now That’s Perseverance

At the Flat Earth Society Web site, an open membership list reveals a group about 500 strong, all of whom apparently believe the society’s core theory: “Earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth”

The world was going to end on Dec. 21, 1954, in a flood. But the cult members had no fear. They had faith, so they would be saved — rescued by a spaceship and whisked away from God’s wrath.

On Dec. 22, 1954, some of those cult members felt pretty foolish. But, to the shock of psychologist Leon Festinger, who had been studying the cult, others went the opposite way: They believed even more strongly than they had before the prophecy failed. In fact, to these true believers, the prophecy had not failed at all. They, the cult members, had managed to stop the flood with the power of their faith [Mooney]. That there was no flood was proof that they were right to believe.

In 1957, Festinger coined the term cognitive dissonance to describe what he had seen.

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Also See: the Flat Earth Society

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