Skeptical Odds and Ends From the Last Month
May 12, 2014
New conspiracy theories and affronts to critical thinking emerge on a depressingly regular basis. Some are worth devoting substantial time and effort into debunking, but others come and go so quickly that they're only good for a mild look-in before we move on to the next anti-science horror.
This post is a grab bag of skeptical weirdness that's popped up in the last few weeks that's worth knowing about, but doesn't have quite enough to hang a whole blog post on. Think of it like that odds and ends album a tired old classic rock band throws out there to fulfill their oppressive record contract — except better, I hope.
The Magic Johnson/LA Clippers conspiracy — Basketball fans and decent people everywhere were disgusted by the conduct of Los Angeles Clippers owner and noted racist Donald Sterling, as he admonished his assistant/mistress/whatever in a taped conversation for publicly disseminating photographs of her and Magic Johnson, on account of him being black.
While most of us were waiting to see how the NBA would respond and what the fallout would be for the team and the league, a conspiracy theory arose: that Magic had arranged for Sterling to be taped, then had the tapes released in order to get Sterling kicked out of the league — all so he could swoop in and buy the team at a reduced price.
The theory gained huge notoriety almost immediately, since Rush Limbaugh jumped all over it. He was quoted on his show as saying, among other choice bits of nonsense, "What if the reason Sterling told [his mistress] that he didn't want her showing up in pictures with Magic is that he knew Magic was going to make a play for his team?! What if he knew that?!"
Whether or not Magic "knew that" and whatever "that" is, it doesn't appear to have become reality. Johnson, who already has a partial ownership stake in the LA Dodgers, and probably would be elected mayor of Los Angeles should he choose to run, has said he would be interested in being part of a new ownership group for the Clippers. But as of now, Sterling plans to fight the NBA's attempt to force him to sell. As to why Sterling was taped in the first place and who released the tapes and why...this is still a mystery.
People actually believe MH370 was taken by aliens — CNN has been sharply criticized for their hyperbolic, wall-to-wall coverage of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Long after most legitimate news outlets had thrown up their hands and realized that "we don't know" is just as valid a theory as "it was hijacked and taken to Diego Garcia because it was carrying experts in invisibility," CNN has continued lighting signal fires and sending out SOS after SOS.
As part of their never-ending coverage, CNN International carried out a telephone poll of 1,000 Americans, asking a variety of questions related to what they think happened to the flight. Most were garden variety queries (where do you think the plane was located, did it disappear due to mechanical failure, etc). But tucked in there was Question 26, which asked respondents if they thought it was very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely or not likely at all that MH370 vanished thanks to the actions of "space aliens, time travelers or beings from another dimension."
It should surprise nobody that 3% of people thought it was "very likely" and 6% thought it was "somewhat likely." 10% more hedged their bets saying it "wasn't too likely."
Whether it's more disturbing that CNN asked the question or nearly 20% of poll respondents didn't dismiss it out of hand is up to you.
The Simpsons kickstarted the Arab Spring - A ludicrous theory put forth by Egyptian TV anchor Rania Badawy claims that a 2001 episode of The Simpsons functioned as "predictive programming" regarding the United States' role in the Syrian Civil War — because the flag on a jeep in a cutaway gag is the same one used by the Syrian opposition.
The idea that the US government asked The Simpsons to plant clues about something that would happen ten years later is pretty absurd, but let's at least give it the benefit of the doubt. In the episode, titled "New Kids on the Blecch", Bart, Ralph Wiggum, Nelson and Milhouse are turned into a boy band by a mysterious record producer. They cut a single called "Drop Da Bomb" which turns out to be a subliminal message to join the US Navy. At some point, N Sync shows up and the office of Mad Magazine gets blown up. It's not a great episode.
During the music video for "Drop Da Bomb", some generic looking Middle Eastern terrorist types get blown up, and their technical (a truck with a machinegun attached) features a flag that looks like the one now used by the anti-Assad forces in Syria. A conspiracy theorist might look at this and think it means the US engineered the coup and let it slip a decade earlier, for some reason. And there is indeed a deeply ingrained streak of paranoia in some Middle Eastern circles that western agents (aka, Jews) are behind the various revolutions that have swept the region.
But that's probably not what's going on here. For one thing, the Syrian rebels didn't design a new flag, they adopted Syria's old flag, which was used from 1932 until the 1963 coup that brought the Assad family to power. Another falsifying aspect of this is that the song "Drop Da Bomb" is actually about bombing Saddam, and the flag looks as much like that of Iraq as it does Syria. And finally, the whole thing really doesn't make the slightest bit of sense.
Still, a reporter from Mother Jones asked Simpsons executive producer Al Jean about the "conspiracy." Jean's terse response sums the whole thing up perfectly: "Yes, we had the amazing foresight to predict conflict in the Middle East."
Jimmy Kimmel takes down gluten-free diets — When late night host Jimmy Kimmel sent an interviewer out to a running trail in LA to ask beautiful exercisers about their gluten-free diets, hilarity ensued. As you might guess, every single one was avoiding gluten. But did any of them actually know what gluten was? If I tell you, it'll give away the joke.
The Yellowstone Caldera evacuation conspiracy — Finally, did you know that South Africa's African National Congress was offered $100 billion to build new housing for the millions of Americans who will be displaced by the upcoming eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera?
What, you didn't know that? Well, now you do. Or at least you know what the South African news website Praag reported. Apparently, the dormant volcano that makes up the bulk of Yellowstone National Park is about to blow, and take the vast majority of North America with it. The survivors will be settled in various parts of the Southern Hemisphere — but not South Africa itself, because a huge influx of white Americans will create racial trouble for the country's black majority. At least that's the opinion of Siph Matwetwe, a spokesman for the country's Department of Foreign Affairs. And your government hasn't said one word about it.
Well, now they have. The rumormongering following the Praag story got so out of control that the USGS posted a statement on its website assuring us that the Yellowstone Caldera is still dormant and showing no signs of eruption, that animals aren't fleeing the park and that there hasn't been a spike in earthquakes or anything else unusual. A subsequent piece by Wired shows that the Caldera is actually showing signs of being extinct. Finally, I couldn't find any evidence of "Siph Matwetwe" being a real person, as he didn't seem to exist anywhere online until the Praag story went up.
But the biggest clue that the whole thing is a hoax is the story's byline. While I don't speak Afrikaner, I can spot an April Fool's joke when I see one. And this story being dated April 1, 2014 speaks for itself.
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