Falling Fish Followup
It's time for another listener feedback episode. There is some kind of big news today, at least it's big for people who are interested in weird stuff — and by weird stuff I mean stuff that's actually real, and yet still weird. We're going to talk about a fact-driven, science-based solution for history's best-documented fish fall event, and we also have another solution to another long-standing mystery: Who created the Georgia Guidestones. And for variety, we're going to cover some more feedback and extra information on a number of other episodes.
Let's get started by going straight to the big news:
Fish Falling from the Sky in Texarkana
We have a very solid update on the December 2021 fish fall in Texarkana, Texas, when scores of fish fell over a wide area during a hailstorm. For the first time ever, some were captured on security camera video — and there's no doubt that these fish did indeed fall from the sky. Unfortunately, as has always been the case, the news confidently asserted that waterspouts were the cause: waterspouts allegedly sucked these fish up out of the sea, transported them horizontally many miles, and then dropped them in the middle of the hailstorm. Although staggeringly popular, this explanation has always been ludicrous and well outside the realm of plausibility, as we discussed in great detail way back in episode #170. The waterspout explanation came not from scientists, but from 19th century tabloid reporters — and somehow became the standard one. This is why we don't ever hear of seaweed falling on inland cities, which would be common if the waterspout explanation were true.
This time, investigator Paul Cropper decided to get to the bottom of it, as reported in Fortean Times magazine. He collected as much physical evidence as he could from the Texarkana event and spoke with some of the eyewitnesses. Working with researcher Sharon Hill (who alerted me to this), Cropper arranged for about 30 of the fish to be delivered to two scientists at the University of Texas Biodiversity Center in Austin. Here's what they found.
First, the fish were all of the same species, Gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), a common local fish. Second, many of them had physical trauma, consistent with damage from the fall, but more than that. Many had injuries consistent with bird beaks. Some were missing their heads. But most significantly, all were partially digested, showing skin erosion consistent with that caused by stomach acid.
There had been a number of reports of large flocks of cormorants before and after the storm, including at the airport where some of the digested fish were found. Cormorants, when disturbed or stressed, will often vomit out their stomach contents, and the local cormorants eat Gizzard shad. They also do this sometimes to lighten the load for flying. And so, mystery solved. Cormorants, flying during the hailstorm, became stressed or disturbed, and did what cormorants do. Although one puzzle piece is missing — nobody reported seeing any cormorants disgorge the shad during the hailstorm — we still have a complete picture of the event. A cormorant study group in the Netherlands also reported that one local village is frequently the target of fish vomited out of the sky by cormorants.
And by the way, there had been no waterspouts near Texarkana on that day, nor, in fact, anywhere else in the country.
Easter Island and Rongorongo
Episode #827 was about the true cause of the decline of the civilization that lived on Rapa Nui, aka Easter Island, from the 1200s on. I mentioned one of the reasons we don't know the historical record is that, like other Pacific Islander populations, the Rapa Nui had no written language and thus no written histories. Listener RF was one of several to write in to point out the following:
What RF is referring to is a glyph system discovered on Rapa Nui that's called rongorongo. It's known from only about two dozen examples, all carved into pieces of wood. In researching the episode I had to read all about rongorongo to see if it might actually give some kind of written history. I quickly learned that it does not. It is not considered a written language, but rather what's called proto-writing. This means that it does not actually represent a language, though it's possible, even probable, that some of the glyphs represent concepts.
Although many of the rongorongo glyphs have provisional interpretations as specific animals or plants, there is no known meaning to any of them, and in any case too little rongorongo exists to make any kind of useful analysis. Groupings and orders of specific glyphs are not consistent, and it has other traits that also mean it's probably not a written language. In fact some believe it may be no more than decoration.
Regardless, whatever rongorongo is — which we likely won't ever find out — it certainly does not represent a written history of Rapa Nui. So, my statement in the episode stands.
The Avro Arrow and the XF-108
Episode #809 was about the Avro Arrow, an advanced, highly capable cold war era Canadian fighter/interceptor that was canceled. Conspiracy theorists claim the cancelation was due to pressure from the Americans who didn't want the Canadians to have a better plane, or some variation on that.
Quite a few people wrote in to say that I should have mentioned the XF-108. This American fighter/interceptor was nearly identical to the Arrow, in both appearance and specifications, though only one wooden mockup was ever built. It was also canceled, seven months after the Arrow was, and for all the same reasons: mainly the changing nature of the cold war, and the growing importance of missiles that made long range interceptors virtually obsolete.
The XF-108's very existence largely debunks many of the Arrow conspiracy theories, at least those centered on the belief that the Canadians had a plane so superior that the Americans could never hope to match.
Perhaps the most controversial episode in a long time was #790 on the economic impact of billionaires. This episode studied a single question as reported in recent research, what effect do billionaires have on a nation's economic growth. The research found that this is determined by how that nation's billionaires acquired their wealth: if it was through corruption, as in Russia, they hurt economic growth; if they became billionaires through normal means such as business or inheritance, they tend to have no net impact.
Feedback was enormous, almost all negative. This, from listener Sarah, was typical:
Again, a really typical reaction to the episode. It seems I shouldn't have to point this out, but Sarah and many others wanted this episode to be about a completely different topic. Rather than examining a single objective science finding by economists, they wanted instead a subjective evaluation of the personal characters of billionaires.
Well, I also shouldn't have to point this out, but all groups of people include all kinds of people. Any generalization about any group is necessarily false, e.g., all billionaires are greedy and immoral. Painting any group with such a broad brush can only result in a factually wrong conclusion. That's one reason Skeptoid episode topics are never about such things. There are over 700 billionaires in the United States alone; I bet most of us couldn't even name 10 — and yet some listeners want me to do an episode of Skeptoid claiming I've determined all 700 as a group are greedy and immoral. I hold Skeptoid to a higher standard than that, and I would hope you do too.
You might not like the finding reported in the episode (that American billionaires don't hurt economic growth), you might even think it was an inappropriate episode topic; but I think it was a perfect one because it challenged so many of our preferred conclusions.
The Georgia Guidestones
And now we have today's second big solution to a significant mystery. Episode #198 was about the Georgia Guidestones, a mysterious granite monument in rural Georgia covered with text advocating population control and other concepts. Their creator has always been anonymous, with his identity known only to the banker who managed the construction on his behalf, a Mr. Wyatt Martin. Many Christians have always been suspicious of the Guidestones, suspecting them to be the work of some Satanic cult, or about witchcraft, or some other strange thing.
Listener Jody wrote in with an update I hadn't heard:
What John Oliver was reporting was that in 2015, a documentary came out: Dark Clouds Over Elberton: The True Story of the Georgia Guidestones, made by a small group of evangelical Christians intent on revealing what they believed would be some occult truth behind the Guidestones. They tracked down Wyatt Martin. According to a member of the crew who immediately terminated his involvement, the filmmakers tricked Martin, who had always kept his promise to never reveal the man's identity. Martin was quite elderly and was recovering from a recent stroke, and they took advantage to film a return mailing address on an envelope that he clearly did not want to share with them. It led to Herbert Hinzie Kersten (1920-2005), an Iowa doctor — and there was enough other corroborating information to establish that Dr. Kersten was indeed the creator of the Guidestones. The evidence presented in the film truly does leave no room for reasonable doubt.
Kersten had written pressing for population control, and had a reputation in his town for speaking openly about white supremacy — "racist to his fingertips," according to a local historian interviewed in the movie — and had published letters in newspapers praising the views of neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. Thus, the true motivation for the Guidestones' advocacy of population control is now established as having been a fundamentally racist one, as many have long suspected.
Addendum: A note on the Guidestones' destruction, shortly after this episode came out, is here. —BD
And so that's a wrap for today. If you've got something to add to an existing episode, email it on in. In addition to followup episodes like this, I also do error correction episodes where we fix things I might have gotten wrong. If you find an error, double and triple check yourself first, collect some good citations, and visit skeptoid.com/corrections to send it in. In any case, that's your dose of Skeptoidy goodness for today, so until next time... stay skeptical.
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