Clearing the air: Debunking the chemtrail myth
To most, orgonite and gemstones cast in resin sound like the components of a keychain or piece of jewelry. Apparently, the combination is worn or carried around to protect oneself from chemtrails. Yes, chemtrails, the trails, supposedly of poison, left in the sky by planes as they fly overhead as a part of a secret government operation to poison the masses or control the weather.
This is the conspiracy that professional debunker Mick West of Metabunk.org and Contrailscience.com spoke about in a Skeptics Club-sponsored talk last Thursday.
In a presentation titled, “How to Debunk Chemtrails,” West discussed the history of the theory, from Art Bell’s talk radio shows to theorists involvement in the 2014 Climate Engineering Conference, as well as the reasons behind people’s claims of their existence.
The presentation focused more on debunking than on the theory itself. Debunking, West explained, is simply, “replacing bunk with facts,” something very different from skepticism or argumentation. It depends, he says on “a shared understanding of basic scientific knowledge.”
“Really old books,” help establish a basic scientific understanding without the cost and commitment of a series of science classes. Such books, “the foundation of modern science” according to West, are consistent with contrail science.
West presented the theory as a piece of bunk, or nonscience, that needed to be replaced with tangible facts. For instance, the persistence of a contrail depends on the humidity of a given altitude, not on the chemicals sprayed from a plane. Contrails have also been sighted as early as 1921, not 1997 as the theory suggests. Planes have been tracked down before to verify the contents of the trails, but West said “you find that they’re regular planes.”
On why people believe such theories, West said “I think you’ll find that anyone who believes in chemtrails is a conspiracy theorist who already believes in things like 9/11 being an inside job, so it fits in with their existing worldview.”
Skeptics Club moderator Professor Nate Brown did not find it surprising that people who should have a basic understanding of science believe these types of theories, as a worldview, developed over years and years, is hard to dispel. “I realize that the reasons why people believe unbelievable things are complex and not easily separated from their culture, their family upbringing, their emotions, and their beliefs about other things. The skills of critical thinking and skepticism are easy to learn, but the changing years or decades of personal belief is not easy,” Brown said.
While the theory may not be, “hugely popular,” here in Santa Monica because of our warm weather, “a significant number of people believe in it.” The theory’s prevalence takes shape in the form of picketing, petitions, and a “very small minority” of believers who say we “should shoot down planes because they’re poisoning us,” said West.
Even if, hypothetically, 1 percent of America’s population believed in such a theory, that would mean that 3 million people believed in it, which is certainly enough to create some harm.
This is one of the reasons skepticism and generally examining outrageous claims is important. “Skepticism is important because too often, extraordinary claims sound believable because they tap into our emotions, because they are promoted by people we love or respect, and because they may appeal to our other beliefs about people, the universe, the government, etc. Sometimes there may not be any harm when a person believes something that he or she shouldn’t,” says Brown.
Harm or no harm, the theory’s prevalence among younger people is a positive to West, as youth permits changes in worldview.
Younger people, “are not engrained in it. They’re discovering things for the first time and go through a bunch of theories and phases and things and when you settle down and get older. Older people get stuck,” West said.
This article previously stated that one percent of America's population was 300 million, it has been corrected to 3 million.