From all around the world come reports of strange blasts of sound from the heavens. Some rumble like distant explosions or thunder, some blare like amplified tubas, some shimmer like reverberating wind chimes. YouTube has a full measure of videos taken from iPhones searching the sky while Sky Trumpets blast their portentous refrains. Commenters warn of the End of Days, or of aliens vainly trumpeting their misunderstood greetings, or of Mother Earth releasing great energies. But whatever the theory, the recordings of Sky Trumpets are sure to send a shiver up your vibrating spine. Must they all be either supernatural or hoaxes, or might science be able to sweep away the mystery?
Of course, the first thing we have to do is listen to some samples. While these play, keep in mind how easy it is to fake videos such as these today. Sounds can be taken from the Internet from any source, and it requires no more than journeyman computer skills to add a sound to a video and apply any manner of reverb or background noise to it. But regardless of their origin, these are the types of sounds that characterize the Sky Trumpets phenomenon; so if there is something to explain, this is what they sound like.
Here’s one from Beijing, China:
And here’s one from Indonesia:
And from Saskatchewan:
And from Oklahoma:
So far, all of these Sky Trumpet recordings were posted to the Internet after 2011. Here is what amateur researchers have determined is the earliest of these videos and certainly the most popular with over 4 million views, and it was uploaded to YouTube in August of 2011, from Kiev in Ukraine, by someone calling herself “Russian Kristina”:
Since this video went live, there have been any number of copycat hoax videos posted using the exact same audio file; including one that got a bit of press, by a girl who did the whole thing in five minutes to show her friends how easy it was to make a hoax Sky Trumpets video.
But hoaxes aside, it’s a virtual certainty that at least some of these videos are genuine, and represent real sounds heard by real people who recorded them and posted them online in good faith. Given that, is it then proven that Sky Trumpets are a real — and unknown to science — phenomenon?
Russian test subjects are said to have done unspeakably horrible things when sleep deprived.
It has become a permanent fixture in the fabric of Internet lore: the Russian Sleep Experiment, an account of a horrific experiment said to have been conducted in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. The subjects were five political prisoners, placed into a sealed chamber and exposed to a gas which prevented them from sleeping. After fifteen days the researchers entered the chamber, and found the men — sleep deprived beyond any human experience — had committed horrors that could scarcely be conceived. Today we’re going to look into the story, and into the facts of sleep deprivation. Might something as grotesque as the Russian Sleep Experiment truly be within the scope of human possibility?
According to the story, the researchers cleared the gas from the chamber and entered, finding one of the five men dead:
The food rations past day 5 had not been so much as touched. There were chunks of meat from the dead test subject’s thighs and chest stuffed into the drain in the center of the chamber… All four ‘surviving’ test subjects also had large portions of muscle and skin torn away from their bodies. The destruction of flesh and exposed bone on their finger tips indicated that the wounds were inflicted by hand…
The abdominal organs below the ribcage of all four test subjects had been removed. While the heart, lungs and diaphragm remained in place, the skin and most of the muscles attached to the ribs had been ripped off, exposing the lungs through the ribcage. All the blood vessels and organs remained intact, they had just been taken out and laid on the floor, fanning out around the eviscerated but still living bodies of the subjects. The digestive tract of all four could be seen to be working, digesting food. It quickly became apparent that what they were digesting was their own flesh that they had ripped off and eaten over the course of days.
Those questioning whether or not this was a true story didn’t have to do very much work. It’s a widely published fact that the Russian Sleep Experiment was a piece of fiction, posted anonymously in 2010 to Creepy Pasta, a web site that showcases scary fictional tales. Despite this, there are always conspiracy minded people insistent that the story is true, or was leaked from some secret government lab; but no matter how strong their desire that this be the case, nobody has ever turned up anything like that. Sometimes a creepy story is just a creepy story.
Do alien visitors really abduct and mutilate unsuspecting ungulates?
It’s three in the morning on a cattle ranch somewhere in Texas. Bessie the cow is half-asleep, mindlessly chewing cud. her ears twitching at flies as she dozes. Suddenly, she is bathed in a cold, bright light from above. She finds her hooves dangling beneath her as she’s hoisted from the ground by an unknown force. She lets out a plaintive moo as she disappears into the strange, alien craft that had been hovering above her. A week later, Rancher Bob stumbles upon the remains of poor Bessie. His prize cow has been skinned, her organs absconded with and her remains discarded in the very pasture where she once grazed.
For many, the above scenario is all too believable. They fear that extraterrestrial spaceships are kidnapping unsuspecting ungulates, conducting horrid vivisections, and then dumping the bodies. The phenomenon is called cattle mutilation, and it is a common part of the modern paranormal lore.
A typical cattle mutilation story begins when the remains of a victim animal have been discovered. Most commonly, these remains have been found in some open field by a rancher, farmer, or other unlucky individual. The animal in question is commonly reported to have been in good health just days prior to the discovery, so the death is unexpected and “natural causes” seems unlikely.
The body itself appears to have been mutilated after death. Oftentimes, external body parts are missing, such as the ears, the eyes, the sex organs, or the tongue; in some cases flesh even appears to have been stripped off of the skull. Witnesses insist that the edges of the wounds are smooth and clean, as though done with a surgeon’s scalpel. A scalpel also appears to have split open the stomach of many animals, and internal organs have been removed. A conspicuous absence of blood is another common feature. Always, the witnesses claim that there are no footprints, tire tracks, or scavenger prints leading either towards or away from the body. The death is a mystery, and foul play of some kind is assumed.
The phenomenon does happen; a simple Google Image search for “cattle mutilation” will bring up endless gruesome images of cattle, sheep, and other victim animals with their lips stripped from their teeth, their eye sockets staring out from circles of excised flesh, their bellies open. The question is, how does it happen, and who — or what — is responsible for the condition of the remains?
Originally posted February 28, 2014:
Some objects found around the world seem to defy rational explanation.
Today we’re going outside with pick axe and shovel in hand, dig through some ancient strata, and unearth something that looks like it shouldn’t be there. In fact, upon closer inspection, it definitely shouldn’t be there. Throughout recorded history, diggers — both amateur and professional — have been finding objects that appear to be modern or made of advanced materials, but are located in old rock or other places where they shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be. Such objects have become known as out of place artifacts, or “OOPArts” for short. An OOPArt, by definition, is one that contradicts our existing understanding of history. Some take this to its apparently logical next step, and believe that OOPArts prove history wrong.
In this episode we’re going to take a quick look at some of the most famous OOPArts and see what’s known about each, and hopefully see if we have enough information to conclude that known history must be wrong. A lot of objects that show up on published lists consist of artworks — sculptures or carvings — that make ambiguous depictions, which some interpret as being out of place. One example is a pictograph from Egypt that some say shows an electric lamp. We’re not going to include these today because they’re most likely misinterpretations. Instead we want hard, physical proof of items that couldn’t and shouldn’t exist, but do.
Two of the best known have already been covered in previous Skeptoid episodes. The Baigong Pipes, featured in episode 181, were said to be a network of metal pipes buried in native rock said to be 150,000 years old. Some believed they proved the existence of an ancient culture of aliens; others actually studied the pipes and found that they not only weren’t very pipe-like, they were simply petrified wood and bamboo that had washed into a basin and later solidified.
Not all turn out to be misidentifications. The Antikythera Mechanism, featured in episode 184, was a Greek clockwork mechanism found in a shipwreck, and it did indeed represent knowledge that was about a thousand years off from our previous understanding. The find turned out to be really important, and we changed our models of ancient technology as a result. Since it was found, other artifacts have continued to fill in the gaps. This is the model we hope to see for all candidate OOPArts. No misidentification; nothing open to interpretation; just solid physical evidence that changes our understanding. So let’s see if any of the other famous examples fit the bill.
The Coso Artifact
In 1961, three people were out collecting geodes and other interesting rocks for the rock and gem shop they operated in Olancha, CA, little more than a truck stop in the Owens Valley west of Death Valley. When they put their specimens under the diamond blade saw to cut them open, one of them jammed the blade. It had a piece of metal in the center.
It became known as the Coso Artifact, named for the Coso Range of mountains in which it was found. Spark plug collectors all agree that the object inside the rock, as depicted in the one existing X-ray, is a 1920s Champion spark plug. Rocks take a very long time to form, certainly a lot longer than 40 years; so the Coso Artifact has become an icon of OOPArts, and is popularly believed to constitute an insoluble problem.
Unfortunately, the real secret of the Coso Artifact is that . . .
Do you know which of these secret military bases around the world are real?
Governments and militaries have secret bases; that’s just a simple fact. But usually the part that’s secret only concerns what’s done there; the actual existence of the facility itself is not usually in question. It’s kind of hard to hide a big complex of buildings. Even NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain command center, which exists entirely inside a mountain in Colorado, is marked with plenty of obvious external infrastructure. Since governments own the land and control access, there’s not really any reason to try and hide the facilities within. Satellite eyes in the sky observe everything being constructed anyway, so other governments will always know there’s something there whether the final product is hidden or not. And yet, stories remain about certain secret establishments. Let’s take a look at eight of these.
This super-secret military base in the UK is said to have performed all sorts of illegal and unethical human experimentation:
1. Porton Down
Real. It’s there in Wiltshire, England, freely available for anyone to drive past or view on Google Earth. Porton Down was formed during World War I, a time when wars were fought with poison gas. Their main focus was to develop gas mask technology, and to create better ways of deploying gases against the enemy. Such horrible weapons as mustard gas and chlorine were routinely used here.
Porton Down’s darkest legacy, and the main reason for its reputation, comes from its cold war years. At the same time that the Americans were experimenting with LSD in the MKULTRA program, Porton Down was doing the same, administering LSD to servicemen without their consent, in an effort to develop mind control and interrogation techniques. Human experimentation was also done, resulting in at least one death and a number of later lawsuits, using the nerve agents VX and sarin, and the endotoxin pyrexal.
And what about that favorite grandaddy of all secret bases:
2. Area 51
Real. The biggest confusion with Area 51 is that it has nothing to do with Roswell, NM or the alleged 1947 saucer crash. They’re in different states, and Area 51 hadn’t even been built yet; so there wasn’t much reason for any dead aliens to have been brought there. It was built in the 1950s, mainly to develop the super-secret A-12 and SR-71 reconaissance planes. Nobody actually calls it Area 51, it’s usually informally called The Ranch and formally the National Classified Test Facility. Contrary to popular rumors, the military doesn’t now, or in the past, deny its existence. That big word “classified” in its name simply means they don’t discuss what happens there.
Much of its history has since been declassified, and nothing has really surprised anyone who works in aviation journalism. Most secret American aircraft that were classified before they became publicly known, such as the A-12, SR-71, F-117, and TACIT BLUE have been tested and developed there. That’s why it’s out in the middle of nowhere, safely hidden behind off-limits mountains.
But if the aliens weren’t taken to Area 51, maybe they were taken to this alleged underground facility in New Mexico, home to gray aliens and reptilian beings:
3. Dulce Base
Fictional. Despite its having been featured in a number of television shows, comic books, and novels, there is no evidence that any underground “base” of any kind exists inside Archuleta Mesa, about 5 km north of the city of Dulce, NM. It’s frequently referenced on UFO web sites and conspiracy web sites, and usually described as a joint operation between aliens and the US military. The story began when a local UFO enthusiast, Paul Bennewitz, believed he was receiving radio transmissions from underneath the mesa in the 1970s. Within a few years, another UFO fan, Phil Schneider, claimed to have been an employee there, and has given detailed descriptions of its 7-level underground structure, its population of 18,000 aliens, and descriptions of the terrible experiments they perform on human subjects. It also supposedly has an underground train connection to Los Alamos National Laboratory, 130 kilometers away.
It’s trivial to study Google Earth images of Archuleta Mesa and see that there’s nothing there at all, certainly nothing like Schneider’s elaborate descriptions that include surface buildings and radar installations. And that no subway exists between there and Los Alamos. It also seems a little suspicious that Phil Schneider would be freely allowed to go around talking about his supposedly top-secret job. For a great discussion of All Things Dulce, see the Skeptoid blog article on the web site.
Some say that the United States maintains an underwater Area 51 in the Bahamas. It’s called:
Real. The US Navy’s Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center is on Andros Island in the Bahamas, and it was once hyped by History Channel’s TV show UFO Hunters as being some kind of secret alien underwater thing. The employees there thought the show was pretty funny; they had a viewing party and sent me a photo of them goofing around and wearing tinfoil hats. Seriously.
AUTEC isn’t underwater. It’s better described as a beach resort, with a small protected harbor and a boatramp and wharf, and the obligatory beach club with cabana bar. Although the Navy does not disclose the nature of their specific projects, it does freely list their assets and capabilities. They’re concerned with underwater warfare, mainly torpedos and mines. They also dabble quite a lot in unmanned underwater vehicles, electronic warfare, and acoustics. Their principal ship is called the Range Rover; it goes out and does most of the grunt work, often at their Shallow Water Range and Minefield about 120 km north of Andros Island. It’s a very thoroughly surveyed plot of real estate, and most useful when they’re not dodging the cruise ships that are constantly pounding back and forth through the channel.
And while we’re underwater, what do we think of the plausibility of a gigantic underground submarine base in China?
A popular tale tells of a haunted Jewish wine box that brought ill fortune upon its owners… apparently.
Every once in a while, there’s a small, local ghost story that’s not very good, or that even has an obvious commercial origin, and that has no business becoming popular — but it does. The famous “dybbuk box” (also spelled dibbuk) is one such story. It went from a screenwriter’s pen on an eBay auction page, all the way onto the Hollywood big screen, with 2012’s The Possession starring Kyra Sedgwick and directed by Sam Raimi. It is the story of a small antique wooden box designed to hold a few bottles of wine, to which was attached a horror story going all the way back to the Holocaust. Whoever owned the box, it was said, experienced terrible disturbances for as long as the box was in their home. Why? Because, according to the story, the wine box was inhabited by a “dybbuk”, said to be a tormented spirit come back from the dead.
The whole idea of the box being inhabited by a dybbuk (דיבבוק) is nonsensical, according to what a dybbuk is supposed to be. The Encyclopedia Mythica describes it as “a disembodied spirit possessing a living body that belongs to another soul” and usually talks from that person’s mouth. An important 1914 Yiddish play The Dybbuk was about the spirit of a dead man who possessed the living body of the woman he had loved, and had to be exorcised. The word comes from the Hebrew verb “to cling”, so a dybbuk is specifically a soul who clings to another. Nowhere in the folkloric literature is there precedent for a dybbuk inhabiting a box or other inanimate object.
But of course, we’re talking definitions of folkloric terms, fictional by their very definition; so there’s no reason why this particular dybbuk can’t inhabit a wooden box if it wants to. And besides, the fact that folklore exists for a possessing spirit tells us nothing about whether or not factual events did indeed harass the owners of this box. The folklore is irrelevant to the question of whether or not this wine box did indeed cause the frightening disturbances attributed to it. So let’s see what the box’s claimed history is.
One thing to keep in mind is that, if you’ve heard this story before, you’ve probably heard that the box was owned by a whole series of people, each of whom had lots of terrifying experiences, and they then got rid of it to someone else. In fact, the lone skeptical quote associated with this story is from Chris French, who said of these many owners:
“[They were] already primed to be looking out for bad stuff. If you believe you have been cursed, then inevitably you explain the bad stuff that happens in terms of what you perceive to be the cause. Put it like this: I would be happy to own this object.”
But then when we look at its actual history, the number of people whose hands it is documented to have gone through becomes astonishingly small, two or three at most; and each of whom went to great pains to tell the ghost story in a dramatic way. Let’s have a look.
The dybbuk box first appeared in 2003 as an eBay auction by Kevin Mannis, who owned a used furniture shop in Portland, Oregon. But it was not listed as a piece of furniture; it was listed as a mysterious haunted item. Mannis wrote on his eBay page an elaborate horror story.
The surprising truth behind Canada’s most famous ghost story.
Today we’re going to go back in time nearly two centuries, to the Great Lakes region of Canada. What is today an expanse of flat, rectangular agricultural fields cleft by winding rivers was then a land of wild green abundance, and the white settlers were blending in with the native Ojibwe peoples. In 1829, the family of John McDonald had a picturesque two-story frame house in a Scottish settlement named Baldoon, near the town of Wallaceburg, Ontario. The story goes that the family suffered an extraordinary series of poltergeist attacks culminating in their house being burned to the ground; whereupon they moved in with their father nearby only to have the attacks continue unabated. While many Canadians today still consider the Baldoon Mystery to be their greatest ghost story, it leaves skeptical researchers an interesting problem on how to regard stories that are so old and so thinly documented.
The Baldoon story has been told and retold so many times over the centuries, and written up in so many histories by so many different authors, that there is considerable variance among the versions. But the gist of the tale is like this. Disturbances began plaguing the family in 1829, mainly consisting of small objects like lead bullets striking people harmlessly as if thrown by unseen hands. But the disturbances increased to a nearly constant bombardment, as described by Neil McDonald, John’s son, who wrote it up in his book:
The dishes of water would rise of their own accord from the table, the tongs and shovel bang against each other on the hearth, the chairs and tables fall over with a loud crash, and even that sober domestic creature, the kettle on the hearth, would toss off its lid, tip over on one side, and suddenly, as if seized by unseen hands, dash itself in a paroxysm of fury on the floor. An Indian knife, with a blade ten inches long, was violently dashed against the window frame and its blade stuck fast in the casement.
Neil wrote of many visitors who witnessed such incidents firsthand, and even included the statements offered by 26 family members, relatives, and neighbors who were there and were party to the strange events. But the worst was yet to come:
At last, one day the crisis came. Worn out with anxious watching, the unhappy man was becoming desperate, when flames burst from a dozen sources in his dwelling. No time to save his household goods; the fire razed his habitation to the ground. Not even his coat was saved, and he saw the home to which he had so lately led his happy bride, bouyant with future hope, strewed to the winds in ashes.
The family moved in with John McDonald’s father next door, but the events persisted. Neil wrote about the thrown objects as if they were nearly constant, especially the strange cases of objects like rocks and bullets being thrown in wet as if they’d just been taken from the river outside. Sometimes, the family would mark such stones and throw them back into the river, only to have them thrown back in later with the same markings; an event strange enough to safely exclude any mere human mischief as the cause.
The family moved out again, finding no refuge in a new temporary home, and so resolved to return and stay in a tent outside their own home. A number of authorities came to the house . . .
Many animals are presented in the popular media as being psychic. Is this the best explanation?
In the wake of a popular 2014 hoax email going around claiming that animals were fleeing Yellowstone National Park in record numbers to escape an impending volcanic eruption, it probably makes sense to have a Skeptoid episode addressing animal predictions in general. Most are not hoaxes. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re psychic, though. There are a range of possible explanations for the apparent ability. Perhaps the animals have some special sensitivity, perhaps it’s an error made by the people who observe them. Today we’re going to take a look at a few popular cases of famous, modern animals believed to have the power of prediction.
Oscar the Cat
In 2007, the media went wild over an article published in the highly respected scientific journal The New England Journal of Medicine claiming that a cat named Oscar was able to predict which patients at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island were about to die, and would curl up with them until they did. The story proved so popular that its author, Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician at the Center, was offered a book deal and expanded the story of Oscar’s amazing predictive ability into a 240-page book, Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat. Oscar’s story has since been included in virtually every list of psychic animals in every kind of media, and is often cited as proof that the ability exists, particularly due to its publication in such an esteemed journal.
But please, hold the horses a moment. The opening section of the Journal is called Perspectives, and includes essays, editorials, and opinion pieces. Dosa’s article was in this section; it was most certainly not presented as research, but simply as a fun anecdote. Dosa made no representation that it was either scientific or based on serious study of the cat’s behavior.
By the time of the book, Dosa said some 50 deaths at the Center had been preceded by visits from Oscar. But as many science journalists have noted, no data was ever collected or analyzed. No mention was made of how often Oscar visited other patients. Since it’s a nursing home, most patients are terminally ill and remain there until they die, so it’s hardly even possible for Oscar to ever be wrong. No criteria were ever observed for the length of time between Oscar’s last visit and the patient’s death, the duration of Oscar’s visit, or how those numbers compared to his visits to other patients. Moreover, Dosa even states in the book that “for narrative purposes” he “made some changes that depart from actual events”.
From what we know of Oscar, there is no need to suggest that he has the power of prediction, either psychic or based on some smelling ability or behavioral sensing. Oscar’s story can almost certainly be explained by confirmation bias: the tendency of workers at the center to more strongly notice Oscar’s actions when they confirm the belief, in exactly the same way that many hospital workers notice busier nights during a full moon, a notion that’s been conclusively disproven. But we can’t know for sure since nobody has ever studied the way Oscar divides his time between the living and the dying. Until they do, we have a cute story, but certainly not a psychic cat.
What happened to American band leader Glenn Miller when he disappeared in WWII?
In 1944, Alton Glenn Miller, born 1904, was on top of the world. He was the world’s most popular band leader, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra was the best selling recording group on Earth. His influence on big band swing music was rivaled only by the great Benny Goodman. A patriot, Miller convinced the United States Army to let him tour the theaters of World War II entertaining the troops. As a major serving in the United States Army Air Force, Glenn Miller boarded a small plane for a quick hop across the English Channel to give a concert in Paris. But the only destination that little single-engine plane and the three men on board ever reached was the file of history’s unsolved mysteries. No trace was ever found, and Miller remains listed to this day as missing in action. He was only 40 years old.
As we so often see with celebrity deaths or any mysterious disappearances, rumors and alternative theories tend to pop up like daisies. What happened to Glenn Miller? Did he die in a plane crash at sea and was never found, or was he perhaps secreted away in some intelligence related spy story? What’s known for sure is that he got on a plane. Glenn Miller’s last flight was from RAF Twinwood Farm, a base for night fighters in Bedfordshire, operated by the US 8th Air Force. The plane was a UC-64 Norseman, a rugged little single-engine plane with seating for up to ten, used for transport and miscellaneous duties, and designed for operating on rough, unimproved surfaces. This particular Norseman had a short career, having been delivered only five months earlier from New Jersey. At the controls was Flight Officer John Morgan, and his passengers were Major Glenn Miller and Lt. Col. Norman Baesell, something of a wheeler-dealer who knew all the right people and would set up gigs for Miller. It was drizzling, the temperature was just above freezing, and the trio took off under heavy overcast at 13:53. The date was December 15, 1944. They never reached Paris.
The first theory, which is really just the default assumption, is that the plane . . .