Tag Archives: Japan

Hey, Where’s the Fukushima Plume?

Mike RothschildBy Mike Rothschild via Skeptoid

After I started writing about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it quickly became clear that there was a huge amount of fearmongering about it. Garbage anti-science pieces like “At the very least your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over” and “28 Signs the West Coast is Being Absolutely Fried by Fukushima Radiation” were needlessly scaring the crap out of those who didn’t have the training, knowledge, or common sense filter needed to see through them.

fukushima bread 02_200pxThe result was that people became afraid that radiation was melting all life in the Pacific Ocean, that cancer was slamming the West Coast, that fish were inedible, that the beach was a death zone, that Japan would be obliterated, that half of America would have to be evacuated, that giant marine animals were washing ashore, that the ocean was broken, that life as we knew it was over, and on and on.

And all of that horror was before “the plume” reached the West Coast.

The radiation leak from Fukushima actually has two components. One was the initial leak from the incident itself, which hit the US fairly quickly. The other was the much slower moving “plume” of radioactive water, the extent of which only became clear last year after Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted that 300 tons of runoff was leaking into the Pacific every day, with no way to stop it.

The New York Times’ map of the Fukushima Plume projection. (click image for larger view)

The New York Times’ map of the Fukushima Plume projection. (click image for larger view)

There were generally two reactions to the news that a plume of radioactive water was heading straight toward the West Coast:

Scientists did science. They researched, they set up studies, they developed computer models, they wrote papers, they disseminated their findings, they adjusted their hypotheses accordingly. The aim was to determine when the plume would arrive, what danger it carried, and what the next steps should be.

Panicmongers mongered panic. They wrote long blog posts trumping up the unknown dangers, they spread false stories, they relied on dubious sources, they sold anti-nuclear products, they accused researchers and government officials of covering up the “real story” of how bad it was. The aim was to make money, abolish nuclear power, and spread fear.

What the researchers looking into the plume found was, at least to me, fairly comforting:

  1. Traces of Fukushima radioactivity would reach the West Coast of the US sometime in early 2014.
  2. Because of the natural dilution of a relatively small amount of water in the hugeness of the ocean, they would be just that – traces.
  3. However, there was no way to tell exactly when the radiation would arrive.
  4. Therefore, monitoring of the radiation levels in sea life and water should continue.
  5. While that’s happening, go about your business safe in the knowledge that you aren’t being fried.

So here we are, past early 2014. Almost halfway through the year, really. What’s the status of the plume?

For one thing, we still don’t know when the plume will hit, or if it actually has. The estimates are still a moving target.

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Fukushima vs Chernobyl vs Three Mile Island

Years after the disaster, some claim that Fukushima radiation is still going to cause widespread death.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid.com
Read Podcast transcript below of Listen here

In March of 2011, an undersea earthquake sent tsunamis thundering across Japan, killing nearly 20,000 people and creating the most expensive natural disaster in history. Among the casualities was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which was almost completely submerged by the tsunamis; an unprecedented event. Power was lost (obviously), cooling systems stopped, and the net result was a complete meltdown of three of the plant’s reactor cores. It was a perfect storm of worst case scenarios. And now, even years afterward, some are calling it a worldwide radiation disaster, worse than even Chernobyl, that will produce a staggering death count for decades or even centuries. Today we’re going to evaluate these assertions and see if we can separate fact from fiction.

Fukushima_250pxWith the shocking end-of-the-world-scenario headlines — such as “Your Days of Eating Pacific Ocean Fish Are Over” and “28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima” — either Fukushima was the worst environmental disaster ever, or some of the worst misinformation ever is being trumpeted. To find out which, we’ll put it into context with the two other best known nuclear disasters: the 1986 explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine, and the 1979 partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania.

The most important technical point to understand about various reactor kinds is the moderator. The moderator is a substance that slows down the fast neutrons being shed by the radioactive uranium fuel, converts the kinetic energy into thermal energy, and turns them into slow, thermal neutrons. A thermal neutron is much more likely to strike another uranium nucleus. This allows a chain reaction, in which the fuel produces enough heat to power a conventional steam generator. Most nuclear reactors use water as the moderator. Put uranium fuel rods into water, in the proper configuration, and you’ll get a chain reaction.

Chernobyl, however, was a very different type of machine. It was what we call an atomic pile, the devices first designed during World War II to produce plutonium for atomic weapons. The atomic pile is literally a pile of graphite blocks, half a meter long and a quarter meter square, with a hole bored through the long axis. These graphite blocks were used as the moderator.

chernobyl_mapThe problem with building a reactor out of graphite blocks is that graphite burns. Contain burning graphite within a concrete structure, and it explodes. This is exactly what happened at Chernobyl, and it’s exactly why nobody would ever build a graphite-moderated reactor today; the whole reactor core was literally a bomb waiting to go off.

Three Mile Island and Fukushima were both water moderated reactors. This was one of the most significant safety improvements of the early 1950s. Fukushima’s basic design is one of the earliest, called a BWR (boiling water reactor). The moderating water, which is also the cooling water, is directly boiled and drives a steam generator. The reason the Fukushima accident happened is that all sources of power were destroyed by the tsunami, including backups, backups, and their backups; and without the pumps to keep the system circulating, the cooling water boiled completely away, and the fuel melted. For months, firehoses sprayed water into the open reactors to prevent open flames from pumping radioactive smoke into the atmosphere. This contaminated water was barely containable; it leaked into the ocean, and was stored in anything that could be used as a tank.

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Dire Warnings and Melting Starfish: Fukushima Fearmongering

Mike Rothschildby Mike Rothschild via Skeptoid

This is the third in a series of pieces debunking the scaremongering and hysteria regarding the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant. I believe the anxiety about the meltdown and its aftermath comes from a mix of negativity toward nuclear power, hostility toward plant operators TEPCO (which is well-deserved in most cases), a lack of knowledge about basic science, distrust of experts (who are seen as dishonest shills) and the common habit of sharing social content that’s driven by strong negative emotions – often without understanding it, and sometimes without even reading it.

fukushima bread 02Using links to good science and some basic concepts in logic, I’ve demolished two of the most prominent lies about Fukushima already, one that Pacific Ocean fish is unsafe to eat and the other that the West Coast is being “absolutely fried” by radiation from the disaster. This time, I’m not going to debunk one single post, but address a grab bag of myths, exaggerations and scaremongering racing around social media. Some of it you’ve probably seen many times, and some of it might be brand new, but all of it needs to be dealt with.

CLAIM: The ocean is broken. This is the title of an October article from Australia’s Newcastle Herald, chronicling the journey of Ivan Macfadyen, a yachtsman who retraced a voyage between Melbourne and Osaka, and ten years later found the Pacific Ocean virtually devoid of life but teaming with floating trash. With its attention-grabbing title and compelling content, it went viral, with over half a million views in three days. People connected the dots and linked the dead, garbage-filled ocean that Macfadyen encountered on his trip to Fukushima, and the piece has been used as part of the exaggerated story since then.

But the link between the two doesn’t appear to exist. As the ocean conservation blog Upwell points out, the story in the Newcastle Herald isn’t a hard science piece, and has no citations or links to relevant research. It’s not meant to. It’s a human interest story, the relaying of a personal anecdote, and rooted in emotion. It’s full of phrases like “nauseous horror” and “astounding volumes” – compelling writing, but not science.

Nuclear fuel rods

Nuclear fuel rods

The story is also not at all about the nuclear plant, but the damage done from overfishing and plastic pollution. It doesn’t even mention Fukushima by name. As such, it’s worth reading, but not useful for any discussion about the meltdown.

CLAIM: David Suzuki’s Dire Warning. The removal of the spent fuel rods from Fukushima could have apocalyptic consequences if done incorrectly, warn activists around the world. Chief among them is David Suzuki, a Canadian environmentalist, scientist and author, well known in his native country, but not elsewhere. A post containing video of him discussing the fuel rod removal, called “David Suzuki’s Fukushima Warning is Dire and Scary” went up on Huffington Post and was a viral hit. So what is his warning, and is it accurate?

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More Fukushima Scaremongering Debunked

Mike Rothschildby Mike Rothschild via Skeptoid

Another day brings another science-free but hysteria-packed screed of terror about how radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant incident will bathe all of us in torrents of cesium-soaked death. Fukushima_250pxA few months ago, I took on one of these rambles, Gary Stamper’s not at all melodramatic “At the very least, your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over” and determined that nothing of the sort is even close to true, with the evidence behind it either willfully misinterpreted or simply incorrect.

Now it’s time to get the knives out for a newer piece of Fukushima scaremongering, published just over a week ago on “Activist Post.” While it’s just as wrong and hysterical as Stamper’s piece, it’s also just as popular, with 28,000 shares on Facebook already. It’s sad that far more people are drawn in by crap than in the debunking of said crap, but that doesn’t mean we stop spreading the correct message: that the radiation released by Fukushima, while serious enough to be cleaned up and monitored, is having a negligible effect on everyone but the unfortunate people living in that area.

28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima

fukushima bread 02_200pxAnd we’re off to the races: specifically, the Gish Gallop, a fallacious debating technique that involves overwhelming your opponent with information, without any regard for its accuracy. Also, I’d like to know what “absolutely fried” means. Is it measurable? Is there a unit that denotes “absolutely fried” as opposed to “mostly fried” or “somewhat fried?” How many AF’s (absolutely frieds) does the radiation from Fukushima contain? And what’s a survivable dose of AF’s? I have many questions about the science underlying this clearly scientific measuring tool.

Michael Snyder
Activist Post

According to his blurb on Activist Post, Michael Snyder is a former Washington D.C. attorney who now publishes The Truth. His new thriller entitled “The Beginning Of The End” is now available on Amazon.com.

Snyder’s site appears to be some kind of Christian doomsday prepper clearinghouse, and his novel is about (surprise) the economic collapse of America. So if you’re looking for a way to incorporate hoarding precious metals into your fellowshipping, Snyder is your man. None of this is a knock against him, but he does seem to have a vested interest in trying to convince you the world is about to end. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

The map below comes from the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center. It shows that radiation levels at radiation monitoring stations all over the country are elevated. As you will notice, this is particularly true along the west coast of the United States.

map_600px

The name “Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center” sounds a lot like a government regulatory body. It’s so incredibly the opposite of that. The website is a slapped together map of the supposed radiation levels at nuclear sites around the world. It’s got no indication where it’s getting its information or what it means, but it does have a fee based service that will alert you to radiation spikes anywhere in the world. And Bible quotes.

Every single day, 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean. That means that the total amount of radioactive material released from Fukushima is constantly increasing, and it is steadily building up in our food chain.

I already covered this in the Stamper piece, and why it seems much worse than it actually is. The short of it is that 300 tons of radioactive water is literally a drop in the bucket compared to the 187 quintillion gallons that make up the Pacific Ocean. Whatever radioactivity is in that water will be diluted to the point of harmlessness.

[…]
We are talking about a nuclear disaster that is absolutely unprecedented, and it is constantly getting worse.

It’s not unprecedented. Chernobyl remains the worst nuclear disaster in human history, much worse in virtually every measurable way than Fukushima.

The following are 28 signs that the west coast of North America is being absolutely fried with nuclear radiation from Fukushima…

Bring it, list. Bring it.

1. Polar bears, seals and walruses along the Alaska coastline are suffering from fur loss and open sores…

Stamper referenced the same article that Snyder does. And if I may be so bold as to quote myself: “The article Stamper links to specifically says ‘Reuters noted that preliminary studies do not support a theory that the disease is due to contamination from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.‘”

Citing an article that specifically refutes the point you’re trying to make is not the way to make that point.

2. There is an epidemic of sea lion deaths along the California coastline…

There is an epidemic of sea lion deaths along the west coast, happening for as-yet unknown reasons. But it’s sea lion PUPS dying, not sea lions as a whole. Radiation does not distinguish whether an animal is young or old, so it’s highly unlikely, if not impossible, that Fukushima has anything to do with this.

3. Along the Pacific coast of Canada and the Alaska coastline, the population of sockeye salmon is at a historic low. Many are blaming Fukushima.

Sockeye salmonSockeye salmon numbers have been in decline for decades.[/caption]And they would be wrong. Sockeye salmon stocks are low in Canada’s Fraser Basin, with experts in the field researching a number of causes for it. But it’s a decline that began in 1992, long before Fukushima was scaring the crap out of people.

4. Something is causing fish all along the west coast of Canada to bleed from their gills, bellies and eyeballs.

Just as “many” does not equal “people who understand this stuff,” “something” does not equal “Fukushima.” The link Snyder sites doesn’t even talk about “fish all along the west coast of Canada.” It mentions one school of herring found to be mysteriously bleeding. The cause of this is unknown right now, but even the biologist who discovered the herring isn’t blaming Fukushima – and she discovered them before the plume of radiation would have reached Canada.

5. A vast field of radioactive debris from Fukushima that is approximately the size of California has crossed the Pacific Ocean and is starting to collide with the west coast.

I don’t know where the “size of California” bit comes from, and I can’t find any reputable source to back it up. There is a large field of debris from the post-earthquake tsunami that will hit the west coast, but interestingly, the link Snyder cites has another link to a BBC article that says it won’t happen until March, 2014. And the debris is not likely to have anything more than traces of radioactivity.

6. It is being projected that the radioactivity of coastal waters off the U.S. west coast could double over the next five to six years.

True, and nothing to be concerned about, given how low the current radioactivity level of the west coast is. To quote Dr. Claus Boning from the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany: “The levels of radiation that hit the US coast will be small relative to the levels released by Fukushima. […] But we cannot estimate accurately what those levels will be because we do not know for certain what was released by Fukushima.”

7. Experts have found very high levels of cesium-137 in plankton living in the waters of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the west coast.

This is entirely expected and in keeping with a radioactive leak. The amount of radioactivity in the plankton will continue to decay as it moves up the food chain, staying well within Japan’s newly-raised acceptable levels of becquerels per kilogram of foodstuffs.

8. One test in California found that 15 out of 15 bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima.

Yet another link Snyder cited without actually reading. It references a CNN article that states: “Tissue samples taken from 15 bluefin caught in August, five months after the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, all contained reactor byproducts cesium-134 and cesium-137 at levels that produced radiation about 3% higher than natural background sources.” (Emphasis mine)

A 3% increase in radiation is negligible. It’s around the same amount of additional exposure you get flying in a plane, or sleeping next to someone. If that worries you, then it’s time for separate bedrooms.

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5 Conspiracy Theories that would be easy to prove

by via The Soap Box

conspiracies05Through my studying of conspiracy theories I have found that many of them are easy to dis-prove. In fact some of them are so easy to dis-prove that it’s actually kind of shocking that anyone believes in them.

Now despite the fact that most conspiracy theories are quite easy to dis-prove, a few of them could actually be proven, and quite easily at that, if a conspiracy theorist was willing to spend the and money to try to prove what they believe is real.

The following is a list of five different conspiracy theories that I feel could be easy to prove:

The Moon landings were hoaxed.

nasa-moon-hoaxDespite the overwhelming evidence that the moon landings did happen and that we really did send 12 men to the surface of the moon and back between 1969 to 1972, many conspiracy theorists still insistence that the landings were all faked, and that they were all filmed on some movie set in on a military base in the middle of the desert.

Despite the multiple pieces of “evidence” that they believe prove that the moon landings were faked, they have not produce one shred of evidence that hasn’t ended up being debunked.

Now, despite the fact that all the evidence that they claim proves the moon landings were hoaxed have been debunked, there are actually a few simple (but expensive) ways for them to prove the moon landings were hoaxed:

First, they could build their own telescope that is powerful enough to see close up to the surface of the moon, and look at the moon landing sites to see if anything is there.

Second, build your own satellite and rocket that can travel to the moon and photograph the sites where the moon landings were suppose to be.

Third, build a space ship that can actually get to the moon, land at the sites, and see for yourself if anything is ther. Oh, and here is the bonus part about this one: If it turns out that you’re right, and you prove that the moon landing were faked, “you” become known as the first person to walk on the moon!

Chemtrails

chemtrail UFO culprit_250pxAmong some conspiracy theorists there is this belief that the government is using aircraft to spray the population with chemicals to either dumb us down, or make us sick, or make us infertile (assuming it’s not for geo-engineering like other chemtrail conspiracy theorists are insisting).

Of course there is no evidence what so ever to prove these claims (despite what they insist) but, there is in fact a very easy way for them to prove that chemtrails are real.

All they would have to do is get a plane, attach a scope or two to that plane (be sure they are the types that remotely open and shut in order to avoid contamination) fly through an alleged chemtrail (actually you might want to do this several times in order to collect several samples, just to be sure) take the samples you’ve gotten, and have them tested to see whats in them, and how high the concentrations are (because that plays a big factor too).

Now, if this is done, one of two things will happen: You and many other conspiracy theorists will be proven to be right, and all skeptics will have to eat their own words (during the revolution that would most likely follow) or, you will be proven to be wrong, and it will be shown that chemtrails are in fact nothing more than water vapor.

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Changing Your Fate

steven_novellaby Steven Novella via Skepticblog

There is a cartoonish sight gag that I have seen multiple times – a patient lying ill in a hospital bed has some indicator of their health, on a chart or monitor. The doctor comes by an flips the downward trending chart into an upward trending one, or adjusts the monitor so the readings are more favorable, and the patient improves.

This is a joke that a child can understand, even if they don’t explicitly understand that the humor lies in the reversal of cause and effect. And yet more subtle or complex forms of this same flawed reasoning is quite common, especially in the world of pseudoscience.

Even in medicine we can fall for this fallacy. We often measure many biological parameters to inform us about the health of our patients. When the numbers are out of the normal range it is tempting to take direct action to correct those numbers, rather than address the underlying process for which they are markers. Medical students have to learn early on to treat the patient, not the numbers.

palm_225pxOf course when the underlying belief is magical, rather than scientific, it is hard to argue against just changing the signs so that the reading is more favorable. Since the cause and effect is pure magic to begin with, does reversing it make it any worse?

Apparently not – at least for those in Japan who still believe in palmistry, according to the Daily Beast. At least one cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Matsuoka, is offering surgery to change the lines in the palm of your hand in order to change your fortune. Living longer, therefore, is just a matter of extending the life line. Of course this is absurd, but is it really more absurd than palmistry itself?

Dr. Matsuoka does not make direct claims about the efficacy of his procedure, but does justify it with the placebo effect and anecdotes:

“If people think they’ll be lucky, sometimes they become lucky.”

There is some truth to that, actually. Belief in being lucky or fortunate does seem to lead people to exploit more opportunities because they are more positive about their chances of success. This reasoning could be used, however, to defend any superstition, and it’s difficult to measure the psychological benefit against the risks of being that gullible and believing in magic.

He also reports:

The woman with the early wedding line wrote to the doctor that she got married soon after he had performed the operation. Two male patients wrote to him that they had won the lottery after the surgery. His luckiest patient collected more than $30,000 (3 million yen).

Well, there you go. I have no way to counter these completely unsubstantiated anecdotes.

Now excuse me while I roll back the mileage on my car. It’s been acting up a bit lately and I’m hoping this will make it run more like it did when it was new.


[END] via Skepticblog

The Lie Is Out There: Three Types of Alien Encounters

TheLieIsOutThere_20_01
By Ashley Feinberg via gizmodo.com

Nearly everyone who’s looked up at the night sky has asked him or herself at least some form of the very same question: Are we really, truly alone in the universe? The only thing that’s certain is that we definitely don’t want to be. Maybe that explains why we keep seeing UFOs in the sky… and why they’re always one of three types.

alien603_250pxThe idea that humankind is pretty much the end all be all as far as intelligent life goes is a pretty depressing thought. It’s only natural, then, that we’d grasp on to pretty much anything as a sign of alien contact—seriously, anything. History is rife with reports of UFO sightings, but if you take a second to stop and think, nearly all of them come with perfectly reasonable explanations—and not one of them extraterrestrial.

Consider this: It would take one of our space ships 60,000 years simply to reach the edge of our galaxy alone. Now, that doesn’t bode well for an extraterrestrial playdate. But this hasn’t deterred the hoards of people willing to swear until their dying day that they have seen, interacted with, touched, and/or been probed (anally or otherwise) by creatures of a world beyond our own. And sure, the thought that we’re not alone is an exciting if not slightly unsettling one, but these little claims and subsequent “proofs” of alien life on Earth almost always fall into one of three categories: military exercises gone wrong, acts of nature, and of course, man-made hoaxes.


• Military

Ever notice how UFO sightings tend to conveniently happen on or around military bases? Yeah, that’s not a coincidence. Be it weather balloon, aerial spy cam, or rogue aircraft, people are more than happy to assume that the mystery circling overhead is alien—rather than military-made—especially during times of national paranoia.

The Battle of Los Angeles

battle of los angeles_300pxTimes of paranoia like, say, WWII, for instance. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the country’s sense of security was shattered. So three months later, when a weather balloon went casually wafting over Los Angeles in 1942, hysteria naturally followed suit. What’s a terrified city to do? Why, conduct a massive military airstrike against the interloper, of course—resulting in this iconic photograph of what was later dubbed The Battle of Los Angeles.

Initially the shadow in the sky was thought to be another attack coming over from Japan, but at a press conference shortly after the incident, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox quickly put that rumor to rest, calling it a “false alarm.” Which then left media personnel free to publish all sorts of “reports” of extraterrestrial coverup. And remember—after WWII, people were shaken. They were ready to believe anything.

The Battle of Los Angeles acclimated civilians to the notion that alien sightings were not only plausible but likely. It allowed for a more comfortable way to explain away their fears, and the instances only picked up speed.

The Roswell Incident

UFO2croppedOne of the most notorious alleged UFO sightings (and the inspiration for a criminally underrated television show), Roswell, all started in July of 1947 when local ranch foreman William Brazel stumbled upon a giant ditch hundreds of feet long and filled with debris—namely rubber strips, tin foil, paper, scotch tape, and toughened sticks.

Since the bizarre mess was on the property where he worked, Brazel promptly reported it to the authorities, and the account eventually made its way over to the Roswell Army Airfield base. The base’s commander denounced the mess to be nothing more than a weather balloon gone wrong, encouraging everyone to forget about the mini-dump and go about their business. So of course, conspiracy theorists decided it was the perfect time for a good, ol’ fashioned UFO rabble-rousing.

roswell_600px

Stanton Friedman, a physicist and amateur ufologist (it’s a word), was one of those noble crusaders for the alien origins explanation—it’s just that he decided to wait a good 30 years before weighing in because, well, no one really knows why. After interviewing Major Jesse Marcel—one of the site’s original inspectors—in 1978, Friedman got what he was looking for. Marcel claimed that the entire event was a military coverup of an alien spaceship. Bingo!

Glenn Dennis, a mortician, also piped in (another 11 years after that) and claimed that dead bodies had been removed from the site and taken to an airbase. But apparently, these people weren’t totally insane (or at the very least, totally wrong).

ufo-crash1-200x225Because there was so much controversy over what actually happened, two separate official government investigations took place—one in 1994 and the other in 1995. The first confirmed that the cause had indeed been a weather balloon; the military was testing them in a classified program that used sensitive lights to try to detect Russian nuclear tests. The second cleared up that whole “dead bodies” issue; the test had used dummies during parachute testing, dummies which then had to be removed.

After Roswell, interest in potential alien spacecrafts skyrocketed, with almost 800 sightings occurring in the weeks that directly followed. As with the Battle of Los Angeles, the international climate probably played a role; this was mid-Cold War, when Americans were well-primed for a little extra paranoia and perpetual fear. While photographs of UFOs are now are relatively rare and met with considerable skepticism, back then, the claims were accepted in droves. Each UFO sighting was merely another log tossed on top of an already hefty pile of anxiety-inducing fodder.

The Mysterious Lubbock Lights

In August and September of 1951, the small town of Lubbock, Texas enjoyed its own brief stint in the UFO spotlight. The Texas Technical College professors spotted a group of 20-30 some-odd lights floating overhead the night of August 25. The next week, student Carl Hart noticed a similar phenomenon in the sky and snapped photos, which the local newspaper then published and eventually sent nationwide.

lubbock_600px

Lieutenant Edward Ruppelt from the Air Force’s Project Blue Book (the government agency set up for the express purpose of UFO investigations) analyzed the images and ultimately declared them not to be a hoax—but he didn’t believe them to be of alien origin, either. Rather Ruppelt believed that the vision had been nothing more than streetlights being reflected off the underbellies of a flock of plovers. Witnesses in the area supported this explanation, agreeing that they had in fact seen large flocks of migratory birds and had even her some squawking.

Still, others maintained that the lieutenant was simply attempting to cover up the training exercises of the Air Port’s new flying wing. Whichever the correct explanation might be, however, certainly doesn’t include aliens.


• Acts of Nature

Pink UFO: A stack of altocumulus lenticularis clouds hovers over the Alpujarra Mountains in southern Spain, stained by the rays of the setting sun Picture: IAN DENNIS

Pink UFO: A stack of altocumulus lenticularis clouds hovers over the Alpujarra Mountains in southern Spain, stained by the rays of the setting sun
Picture: IAN DENNIS

These little alien scares down’t necessarily have to come from the hand of man, though. Our world is fully capable of creating its own absolutely beautiful, stunning phenomenons that can pretty easily terrify any witnesses who don’t understand what’s going on in the sky above them. Generally, as science advances, we have fewer and fewer instances of people reporting suspicious, potentially otherworldly activity in the wake of a natural occurrence. Still, it’s curious how quick we are to jump to the conclusion that a phenomenal vision came from some alien being when, in fact, it just came from our very own phenomenal world.

Portugal’s Miracle of the Sun

In 1917, 30,000 people in Fatima, Portugal supposedly witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun,” an event that was supposed to predict the appearance of the Virgin Mary. Crowds gathered to find themselves staring at a cloudy sky for hours. But when the clouds finally did part and the sun came bearing down, everybody simultaneously experienced radiating, multicolored lights that came spiraling downwards. And cue collective panic… now.

portugal_600px

Understandably, though, and to this clearly devoutly religious population, the bright, shiny lights could very well have seemed like a sign of the End Times. Nearly 100 years later, we’re aware of the fact that staring at the sun for such a long of a period of time has the potential to directly induce mass hysteria and hallucinations. But hey, they were looking for a little excitement; at least they got what they came for. The severe retina damage was just a bonus.

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5 Conspiracy Theories That Are Shockingly Easy to Debunk

By Douglas A. McDonnell, M. Asher Cantrell via Cracked.com

Just about every major event in history has a conspiracy theory attached to it, whether you’ve heard of it or not. It’s just that most of them remain known only to the hardcore “we’ll believe anything” true believers, where others, like the ones below, pick up real traction.

But even among theories like these (which count their believers in the millions), you find that the whole thing is usually based on some embarrassingly simple misunderstanding. For example …

#5. The JFK Assassination Is Explained by How the Targets Were Sitting

JFK01

The Theory:

ccc

“I suspect warlocks are somehow involved.”

If you’ve seen Oliver Stone’s JFK, then you’ll remember the climactic scene in which Kevin Costner “proves” that the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy by demonstrating the impossible path of Oswald’s shot, which he sarcastically dubs “the magic bullet.”

The problem, according to those who believe in the conspiracy theory, is that Kennedy and Governor John Connally (who was seated in front of him) both suffered a constellation of wounds on their bodies from what the official investigation claims was a single bullet fired by Oswald. For this to be possible, the bullet would have had to curve around in midair several times, in multiple directions.

Since this openly defies the laws of physics, there must have been another shooter on the grassy knoll, or maybe the limo driver did it, or perhaps it was space lasers from a Nazi base on the moon. In Stone’s film and elsewhere, you see it accompanied by a diagram like this:

Our guess? Connally had one of those shoulder magnets that were all the rage back then.

The Simple Misunderstanding:

JFK and Connally weren’t sitting like that.

The people who draw up these diagrams invariably put Connally at an equal height to and seated directly in front of Kennedy. That’s where they’d be sitting if they were two ordinary dudes riding in an ordinary sedan, but the problem is that this sedan happened to be carrying one ordinary dude and the president of the United States.

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John McAdams
If only JFK had called shotgun.

The people who are paid to arrange this kind of thing knew who the people in the crowd were really there to see, and it wasn’t Governor Connally. So to prevent Connally from blocking the view of the president, he was put in a little jump seat, which was both set off from and lower than Kennedy’s position. So they were actually sitting like this:

If you think that’s a convenient story trumpeted out to explain away the mysterious curving bullet, don’t just take our word for it. That diagram was drawn from a photograph taken from behind Kennedy (the photographer was “Betzner”) in which you can clearly see that Connally is either a hunchbacked dwarf or in a very strange sitting position:

Or else you can just look at a photograph of the inside of the car:

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John McAdams
It’s like someone put a booster seat on the floor or something.

You’ll also notice that Kennedy and Connally weren’t sitting rigid and facing forward like robots, as the conspiracy theorists suggest, but were twisted in their seats and waving at the audience as though, like, they were at a parade of some kind. Rearrange their bodies that way, and the path of the bullet — Oswald’s bullet — goes straight through them. Just like it should.

#4. The Pearl Harbor Conspiracy Relies on a Terrible Understanding of Politics

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PhotoQuest / Getty

The Theory:

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All of those red coats are really George Washington.

Conspiracy theories didn’t begin with Kennedy. Look back through history and you’ll find that any time some disgruntled foreign agent ever committed an atrocity on American soil, there were people screaming “false flag!” — meaning the government intentionally staged the attack to drum up support for some kind of evil foreign policy, or, at the very least, intentionally let it happen for the same reason.

Take Pearl Harbor. After the Japanese air force launched a surprise attack on the American fleet in 1941, it became a widespread belief among conspiracy authors that President Roosevelt knew the attack was going to take place, but allowed it to go ahead. Why? Quite simply, he had a hard-on for war with Germany, but didn’t have the public support for it. Since Hitler had signed a pact with Japan, war with either of them meant war with both, and allowing everyone at Pearl Harbor to be murdered would give FDR all the public support he needed to enter the war. He could spank Hitler’s ass while still looking like the victim.

The Simple Misunderstanding:

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Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images
“C’mon, guys, seriously?”

The Tripartite Pact, the pact between Japan, Germany, and Italy, was a defensive alliance only. That means Hitler was under no obligation to attack the United States just because his idiot friends did.

Of course, Germany did declare war after Pearl Harbor, but it had nothing to do with the idea that Hitler’s hand was forced by some deal he had with Japan. Instead, he cited the Lend-Lease Act and American naval activity as his reasons. That’s because Roosevelt was already pissing Hitler off by ordering his destroyers to sink German submarines on sight while at the same time escorting boatloads of weapons and supplies to Hitler’s enemies.

It’s true that Roosevelt was pretty keen to enter the war against Germany … to the point where he actually didn’t want to go to war with Japan because a war in the Pacific would distract him from his German hate-boner.

And speaking of “false flag” attacks …

#3. The World Trade Center Did Not Collapse at “Free-Fall Speed”

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AFP / Getty

The Theory:

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Al Bello/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Because it occurred in the Internet era, the 9/11 World Trade Center attack is the one historical event that has generated more conspiracy theories than the Kennedy assassination. There are tons of equally crazy variations of the theory, but they all come down to the curious way the towers fell.

Conspiracy theorists say the buildings fell at “free-fall speed,” meaning that they didn’t just slowly crumble away or tip over like you might expect, but that the whole damn things just fell down at once, like a house of cards. That, they say, proves that the towers were wired with explosives by the U.S. government. Why else would sturdy skyscrapers just collapse in a puff of smoke like that?

The Simple Misunderstanding:

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Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images
Structural engineering is probably one of those “gut” things anyway.

When somebody tells you that the towers fell at “free-fall speed,” they’re more or less pulling that out of their ass. Or at least, they’re referencing some other conspiracy theorists who pulled it out of their ass. They’re not referencing any kind of scientific theory or measurement; they’re just timing the fall as they watch YouTube videos and declaring that it looks different from how it plays out in their imagination. In other words, they don’t actually know what they mean by “free fall” except that the buildings seem to be falling more quickly than they’d expect from the almost certainly zero controlled demolitions they’ve seen before.

Most of the video of the actual collapse is filmed in Cloverfield-style shaky-cam, but if you watch any of the still-camera footage, you can debunk the free-fall claim simply from the fact that there’s debris coming off the tower that’s falling faster than the tower is. We’ve known that objects free fall at the same speed ever since Galileo dropped some balls off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so that more or less puts the kibosh on the whole free-fall business.

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Michael Loccisano / Getty
She is, however, considered a reputable expert on the Crimean War.

Part of the problem is that the Twin Towers were basically big, featureless rectangles that made it look like the whole thing was falling at once. Conspiracy theorists like Rosie O’Donnell like to rattle off statistics like how the towers fell in nine seconds, which just happens to be free-fall speed. But nine seconds is more likely the amount of time that Rosie put into researching the issue, because if she’d actually timed the collapse, she would have found that the towers took about 15 and 22 seconds to collapse, well short of free-fall speed. But then, that’s why very few engineering graduates cite Rosie O’Donnell as a source.

As for why the buildings collapsed at all, that has to do with the way they were designed and their resulting inability to stand up to the horrific fires caused by the crashes. As for why the buildings weren’t designed to withstand this kind of attack, it’s because the world can only do so much to protect you from unthinkable horrors, and nothing will change that.

MORE . . .

Illusion: How to see the past

via New Scientist TV

Think you’re living in the moment? You could actually be experiencing another time.

A brain trick called the flash-lag illusion shows how we don’t always perceive the present. This version, created by Eiji Watanabe from the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki, Japan, presents a moving cube occasionally accompanied by a flashing twin. When the second box appears, it’s really lined up with the moving cube yet it seems to lag behind. A second example uses a gear animation to show how a flashing piston looks out of sync with another that’s shifting up and down.

The illusion was thought to be caused by our brain extrapolating into the future: it can accurately anticipate the position of the moving cube because it follows a predictable path, but it falls short when assessing where the flashing cube is due to the time it takes to process a stimulus.

Recently David Eagleman of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and colleagues found that our brain is reaching back into the past instead. It waits to see what happens right after the flash before determining the cube’s position: changing the trajectory of the moving object after the blinking can influence where it’s perceived.

The effect is interesting because it gives insight into our notion of self and whether we exist in the here and now. To find out more, check out our feature, “The self: You think you live in the present?“.

If you enjoyed this post, see how to move a dot with your mind or how to affect an object’s motion by changing your gaze.

Also See: New Scientist Videos (YouTube)

Reiki

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

reiki_300pxReiki (pronounced ray-key) is a form of energy healing that centers on the manipulation of ki, the Japanese version of chiRei means spirit in Japanese, so reiki literally means spirit life force.

Like their counterparts in traditional Chinese medicine who useacupuncture, as well as their counterparts in the West who usetherapeutic touch (TT), the practitioners of reiki believe that health and disease are a matter of the life force being disrupted. Belief in a life force, known as vitalism, was common in the West until the 19th century. Since then, the concept of life force has joined phlogiston, ether, and many other superannuated ideas on the rubbish heap of discarded scientific notions.

The belief in vitalism is still strong in China, India (where the life force is called prana), Africa (animism), and Japan  Each believes that the universe is full of some sort of vital energy that cannot be detected by any scientific instruments, but which can be felt and controlled, often by special people who learn the tricks of the trade.

reiki-cat 1104Reiki healers differ from acupuncturists in that they do not try tounblock a person’s ki, but to channel the ki of the universe so that the client or patient heals. The channeling is done with the hands, and like TT no physical massaging is necessary since ki flows through the body of the healer into the patient. The reiki master claims to be able to draw upon the energy of the universe and increase his or her own energy while performing a healing. Reiki healers claim to channel ki into ill or injured individuals for “rebalancing.” Depending on the training and beliefs of the healer, reiki is used to treat a wide array of ailments. Larry Arnold and Sandra Nevins claim in The Reiki Handbook (1992) that reiki is useful for treating brain damage, cancer, diabetes, and venereal diseases. Many reiki healers are more modest and treat lesser problems such as fatigue or muscle soreness. I was once treated by a reiki practitioner for a wrist injury. The treatment didn’t work because I was a non-believer, or so I was told. If the healing fails—and it will inevitably fail for such things as cancer—it is because the patient is resisting the healing energy. Non-belief is one of the great blocks to healing energy. There is a reason for that, which we will explore below.

MORE . . .

The Bermuda Triangle and the Devil’s Sea

Two regions of ocean are said to be mysteriously dangerous. What’s the truth behind this popular belief?

via Skeptoid.com
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Today we’re going to hit the high seas, and venture into a matched pair of alleged danger zones where ships and airplanes are said to disappear at an alarming rate. Some believe that the Bermuda Triangle and its twin, the Devil’s Sea south of Japan, are merely regions where natural forces combine to form a genuine navigational hazard; while others believe that some unknown agent is responsible for sweeping the hapless travelers from the face of the Earth. Today we’re going to dive into the waters to see how deep the mysteries really are. Let’s begin with:

The Bermuda Triangle

trianglemapIt’s perhaps the best known of all the world’s regions said to be strangely treacherous. The triangle goes from Miami to Bermuda to Puerto Rico, and despite a huge amount of normal shipping traffic passing through it every day, stories persist that some force there lurks to pull ships and planes to a watery grave.

The most common appearance of the Bermuda Triangle today is on television documentaries and popular books that purport to take a “science-based” look at the phenomenon. They give the appearance of skepticism by dismissing the paranormal explanations like psychic energy, Atlantis, or alien abductions, and instead focus on natural phenomena that could be responsible for disappearances. These include rogue waves, undersea methane explosions, or strange geomagnetic fluctuations. They test these explanations with scale models and sophisticated simulations.

But in fact, this representation of being scientific is wrong. To investigate the Bermuda Triangle scientifically, we would start with an observation, and then test hypotheses to explain it. Popular programming today tends to skip the very first step: actually having an observation to explain.

One of the first things you learn when researching the Bermuda Triangle responsibly — which means including source material beyond the TV shockumentaries and pulp paperbacks that promote the mystery wholeheartedly — is that transportation losses inside the Bermuda Triangle do not occur at a rate higher than anywhere else, and the number of losses that are unexplained is also not any higher. Statistically speaking, there is no Bermuda Triangle. The books and TV shows are trying to explain an imaginary observation. MORE . . .

The Devil’s Sea

bermuda-triangle1_300pxIt goes by many names: the Devil’s Sea, the Dragon’s Triangle, and the Taiwan Triangle; and, just as is the Bermuda Triangle, it’s even sometimes called the Devil’s Triangle. Its location varies a bit depending on which author you read, but the triangle usually runs from Taiwan up to the volcanic island of Miyake-jima just south of Tokyo, to about Iwo-jima or thereabouts. Miyake-jima and Iwo-jima lie along the Izu-Bonin volcanic arc, a line of underwater volcanoes and islands that’s part of a system stretching 2500 kilometers from Japan to Guam. Some, like Charles Berlitz, say that the Devil’s Sea is every bit as dangerous and mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle.

In his 1989 book The Dragon’s Triangle, Berlitz said that Japan lost five military vessels in the area between 1952 and 1954 alone, with a loss of some 700 sailors. In Dan Cohen’s 1974 book Curses, Hexes, & Spells it’s reported that legends of the danger of the Devil’s Sea go back for centuries in Japan. Its most famous casualty was the No. 5 Kaiyo-Maru, a scientific research vessel, which disappeared with the loss of all hands on September 24, 1953 (a date often wrongly reported as 1952 or 1958).

With such a dramatic history, you’d expect there to be all sorts of books on the subject, especially in Japan. But it turns out that the eager researcher is disappointed. A search for books, newspaper, or magazine articles on the Devil’s Sea comes up completely empty, until a full 20 years after the loss of the Kaiyo-Maru. Apparently, the story — even the very existence of this legendary named region — was not invented until very recently. MORE . . .

illusion: Impossible roof defies gravity

Post by Sandrine Ceurstemont, editor, New Scientist TV

Impossible objects, like those drawn by artist M. C. Escher, don’t seem like they could exist in the real world. But Kokichi Sugihara from Meiji University in Kawasaki, Japan, is well known for building 3D versions of these structures.

Now a new video shows his latest construction: a gravity-defying roof that seems to attract and balance balls on its edge. When the house is rotated, its true form is revealed.

More: New Scientist TV: Impossible roof defies gravity.

Massive Sydney And California Tsunamis Coming?

From the land of quackery comes the man who “predicted” the Japanese earthquake. He has now predicted a massive earthquake/tsunami that will decimate everything in sight – like Godzilla stomping through Hong Kong! Be frightened. Be VERY frightened! Not.

This is going to be a very public fail. Enjoy.

via disclose.tv

August 7, 2012 – You might remember the man who apparently predicted the Japanese earthquake and tsunami: Mitchell Combes? Story is that he posted a 104 hour countdown to the earthquake on his Facebook page and got it 100% correct. Different thoughts and ideas circulate as to whether that was a legit prediction or not.

Nonetheless he has just posted his first real prediciton since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and if he is correct, we are in for a massive global incident very shortly.

Here is what he posted about 45 minutes ago on his Facebook page (see image above):

“Ok everyone, you’ve been warned of what’s to come, we are getting extremely close to the 104 hour tsunami warning. I strongly advise that if you live on the east coast of NSW and west coast of USA, have your evacuation gear ready to go as soon as possible. I said on March 11 that California would be next after Japan’s countdown… Sydney’s earthquake will be magnitude 9.5, California’s earthquake will be magnitude 9.6, followed by two 9.4’s, all of these tsunamis will be created in the same exact hour.”

Will he be correct?

Keep Reading:  Massive Sydney And California Tsunamis Coming?.

Embarrassing Conspiracy Theories: Pearl Harbor

Perhaps one of the longest and most enduring conspiracy theories in this country is the belief that the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941 was known before hand, and was allowed to happen because Franklin Roosevelt wanted to go to war with Germany and Japan.

Keep Reading: The Soap Box: Embarrassing Conspiracy Theories: Pearl Harbor.

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