Chemtrails conspiracy theory gets put to the ultimate test


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What happened when 77 atmospheric scientists actually took a look at the claim that aircraft are spewing out mind-controlling chemicals, wonders Phil Plait

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Contrails from planes

I’ve spent a lot of time debunking silly conspiracy claims in my time. NASA faked the Moon landings, the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world in 2012, a mysterious planet named Nibiru would wipe out life on Earth in 2003, the government created fake snow in Atlanta that wouldn’t melt and scorched when burned… I’ve even debunked government officials who claim that other government officials are covering up conspiracies.

So when I say I haven’t bothered debunking chemtrails because they’re too goofy even for me, you can glean how I really feel about them.

Still, a handful of people are extremely devoted to the idea that the government is spraying us with chemicals from planes, and what you think are simple contrails are actually high doses of mind-altering (or climate altering) chemical compounds meant to keep us under control, I mean, come on, wake up sheeple!

Sigh.


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Just water vapour

In fact, when you see clouds coming from planes they really are just the product of condensation of water vapour.

But why let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy?

Still, it’s worth trying. That’s why scientists from the University of California, Irvine, and the Carnegie Institute got together and researched the topic.

They knew they wouldn’t convince the conspiracy theorists, but having a solid source of objective science might help inform the public discourse.

Given how anti-science so many members of the US Congress can be, I don’t think there’s any idea too silly for them to not take seriously.

They surveyed hundreds of experts in contrails as well as those who study atmospheric deposition (how various chemicals fall to the ground from the air), presenting them with the evidence provided on various chemtrail websites (mostly in the form of photos of plane trails and analyses of water and soil samples), asking them to evaluate it.

No evidence

In the end, 77 scientists reported back, and the results were not terribly surprising. 98.7 per cent (76 out of 77) of the scientists said they had encountered no evidence of a secret large-scale atmospheric programme (SLAP). Everything they saw on the conspiracy websites showed that what they were seeing was the natural consequence of planes flying around all on their own without government nefariousness.

Of course, the first thing you’ll notice is the one scientist who dissented. In that case, it’s hardly a smoking gun: The one participant who answered yes said the evidence they had come across was “high levels of atm[ospheric] barium in a remote area with standard ‘low’ soil barium”.

In other words, they found some unusually high amounts of barium, which hardly supports the idea of wide-spread cover-ups of mind control techniques – and it sounds like the scientist in question was simply saying they can’t rule SLAP out, which is a very different thing from saying it’s real. When I can’t find my keys in the morning I can’t rule out that dinosaur ghosts hid them from me. It just seems a tad unlikely.

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