If you haven’t heard about the chemtrail conspiracy theory, you’re probably not an avid browser of social media and don’t frequent your local vegan restaurant.
I’m not going to go too in depth here, but it’s basically a belief system (with zero evidence) that claims chemical agents are being sprayed in the atmosphere for population/weather control and other nefarious purposes that Internet conspiracists can dream up.
How do they know this? Those contrails you see in the sky trailing jet planes, that’s how.
Chemtrail alarmists participate in a common tactic used by most conspiracy theorists called “anomaly hunting.”
From Steven Novella writing for Neurologica:
They cite the fact that some contrails persist in the atmosphere longer than others as a major piece of evidence. Those with the secret chemicals last longer. They also look for other anomalies, such as broken contrails or contrails that look colored instead of white, or that have an apparent spiral pattern to them…
This is classic anomaly hunting – look for anything strange, then weave some handwaving explanation for why this apparently strange feature is due to the phenomenon you want to prove. Humans are good at making up explanations for things, which is a lot easier than critical analysis or understanding the science.
Now, a group of scientists have taken it upon themselves to take the chemtrial myth head-on, publishing a peer-review study in which they surveyed experts in atmospheric science on their take regarding the evidence that we’re being sprayed.
— tone (@tone40afc) August 15, 2016
The reason for a study focusing on a crackpot conspiracy is fairly simple: evidence can affect public opinion, and harmless conspiracy beliefs can be a “gateway” to more consequential ones, like vaccine-denial for example. Or, as Novella points out, “fake controversies take attention away from more pressing issues, like pollution and climate change.”
According to the study, out of the 77 scientists who participated in the survey, only one said they had ever encountered evidence that may suggest chemtrails exist, claiming she/he had come across “high levels of [atmospheric] barium in a remote area with standard ‘low’ soil barium.”
The scientists were then shown photos of four contrails, all showing different traits such as “persistence, gaps, colors, and spirals.” None of the scientists said that the photos showed any evidence to suggest anything nefarious, and offered much more realistic explanations such as atmospheric temperature and humidity – both factors that can determine how long contrails persist (a common talking point of conspiracists is the contrails that don’t immediately dissipate are the ones laden with evil stuff). Wind and flight patterns were another simple explanation that conspiracists curiously don’t want to consider.
— Chemtrail SKYWATCHER (@Chemtrails_818) August 15, 2016
From Steve Novella:
Believers will also argue that this is an argument from authority, which misses the point. The purpose of the survey is to find out what experts believe about chemtrail theories, if they have ever encountered anomalies, and if they have explanations for the alleged anomalies to which believers point as evidence.
The fact is, experts do have detailed explanations for the alleged atmospheric anomalies that believers point to, so the onus is now on believers to explain why [a secret large-scale atmospheric spraying program] is a better explanation for the observed phenomena than those offered by the experts.
The study’s authors made sure to mention that they’re not out to change the minds of the tinfoil hatters “who often reject counter-evidence as further proof of their theories.”
“It is reasonable that ordinary citizens should want questions answered concerning health, climate change, and pollution,” the study’s authors wrote. “While we understand that many of the fears underlying [chemtrails] may be legitimate, the evidence as evaluated here does not point to a secret atmospheric spraying program.”
Featured image: Wikipedia