Listener Feedback: Provisos, Addenda, and Quid Pro Quos
Listeners write in with extra information that adds a whole new dimension to some past shows.
Feedback comes into the show every day, but it's not everyday that I get something that truly adds a new dimension to an existing episode, or that raises a new question that needs to be addressed. When I get these, they go into a document, and when that document gets long enough, I release a listener feedback episode just like this one. Not only does this improve past episodes, it also points new listeners to all that awesomeness found in the back catalog. Today we've got feedback on the episodes about the STENDEC mystery, the Civil War pterosaur photograph, palm oil, the Banjawarn Bang mystery, the claim that the first slaves in the Americas were white, and the not-so-strange disappearance of Flight 19 inside the Bermuda Triangle.
An interesting new solution to the STENDEC mystery has been proposed, as advised by listener Anders. This was the case in 1947 when an airliner crashed in the Andes, killing everyone aboard. There is no mystery about the crash itself; it was a controlled flight into terrain during minimal visibility conditions, which remains even today the most common cause of a crash. The mystery is the Morse code transmissions sent by the plane shortly before it crashed, spelling out the nonsense word STENDEC. Lots of people have proposed explanations for what it meant, and in Skeptoid #231 I dismissed all of them as illogical. I found it didn't really matter. There are garbled transmissions every day, and the only reason anyone remembers this one is that it happened to be followed by a fatal crash.
A couple months after my episode, John Scherer of the North Texas Skeptics published the most sensible decoding of STENDEC I've seen. He found that if you divide the dots and dashes differently and allow for the error of one additional dot, you get VALP:
instead of STENDEC:
— VALP presumably representing an alternate airport, Valparaiso, approximately 100 km NW of their intended destination, Santiago. From other evidence we do know that the flight crew thought they were much further west than they actually were, so this error is plausible. A weakness in Scherer's theory is that only eight minutes before, the crew had transmitted an ETA in Santiago for the exact same time; so we'd have to assume that the crew made the new determination of their position and elected to change airports during those eight minutes, and by coincidence their computed ETA at Valparaiso happened to be exactly the same as they thought it would have been at Santiago only a few minutes ago. In addition, the airport code for Valparaiso at that time was VAP, not VALP, but that's not an unreasonable error to make. It would also not be the first time that an error of one dot had been made during a Morse code coding and decoding. As I said, I find Scherer's to be the most plausible theory I've seen.
The Civil War Pterosaur
Recently, Skeptoid #605 talked about a photo showing some Civil War soldiers gathered around the corpse of a giant pterosaur, trumpeted by Young Earth Creationists as proof of the Biblical age of the Earth. In fact the photo was one of two created in 2000 for a TV show called Freakylinks. I'd been unable to track down the creator of the second, and most famous, of the two photos. However, after the episode came out, it transpired that two guys who worked on Freakylinks happened to be Skeptoid listeners, and got in touch! Ben Rock, who worked at the production company and did some of the work writing backstories for their website, put out some feelers to more of his former colleagues. Brian Cain, who wrote most of the website backstories, confirmed the second photo's genesis:
Another colleague, Scott Schofield, also remembered having the second photo made but didn't recall who made it. I also heard from propmaker Seth Wolfson, who actually made the pterosaur in the first picture, and we traded a bunch of fun emails. Unfortunately none of them were able to track down anyone at the production company who remembered what art firm had been engaged to create the second photo, but they did all confirm that it was indeed a computer creation, and not proof of modern living dinosaurs. Spoiler alert.
Skeptoid #608 was about palm oil, an embattled product due to its environmental impact. Many palm oil producers subscribe to a conspiracy theory — which probably has some truth to it — to explain why the European Union has instituted a ban on the use of palm oil to produce biodiesel, which is to favor their own products such as grapeseed. Quite a few of you wrote to correct me, that I probably meant rapeseed instead of grapeseed. While it's true that rapeseed is used to make biodiesel, the palm oil producers are indeed talking about grapeseed, which is a waste product from all that European wine production. Why not use a waste product if it can be turned into biodiesel? So it was not an error, but glad to see that you're all on your toes.
The Banjawarn Bang
Episode #531 was about an event in 1993 in a remote part of Australia called the Banjawarn Bang, a huge explosion that many have suspected could have been a nuclear test. The land there was owned by the Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyō, which they did use for testing weapons of mass destruction. However, after sifting through all the evidence, we concluded that the event was most likely an exploding comet or meteor, similar to the Chelyabinsk event of 2013, or the Tunguska event of 1908. A weakness in this theory that I pointed out was that seismic data gave the depth of the explosion as 10km, not 0km as would be expected for an atmospheric explosion.
Turns out this was not a weakness after all. Listener Gustavo wrote in to advise me that 10km is always given as the default depth for all earthquakes when it cannot otherwise be determined, since this is about the average depth for most quakes worldwide. In this part of Australia, seismic data was scarce; and although we did get a good measurement of its magnitude — 3.6, slightly less than the 4.2 measured at Chelyabinsk — there was insufficient data to determine its depth. The 10km number is a placeholder only, not a fact. So there goes my only objection, and we're left with a stronger case than ever that the Banjawarn Bang was a hypersonic superbolide, and not a nuclear bomb.
Irish Slaves in America
Episode #609 dealt with the false narrative popular among white supremacists that the first slaves in the Americas were Irish, not African. Listener Buck wrote in with a little anecdote pertaining to a snippet of an indenturement contract from 1640 that I read on the show, which indentured a young man to the service of Henry Wolcott, a member of the Connecticut House of Delegates. Buck wrote:
And we had another grandpa connection, this time in episode #417 about Flight 19, the training flight of five TBM Avengers that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle in 1946. Check out the episode if you want to know what actually happened to the planes, but this message from listener Ann that she sent through the Skeptoid Facebook page definitely adds a bit of dimension to the story:
I always like to end these episodes on a positive note, so here's an email from listener Phil, who gave me permission to read it:
Having a positive social impact requires two things: one is me on this end of the microphone, but the much larger part is all of you — the thousands and thousands of supporters that make it possible for Skeptoid Media to exist as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and to crank out this content on a daily basis, which requires time, people, and resources. So on behalf of Phil and his son, I want to extend a giant "thank you" to all of you, supporters and future supporters alike. It's not just a podcast.
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