The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘conspiracy theories’

CNN Taken to Task Over Its NON-Critical Thinking on the Boston Bombing

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 19, 2013

As I mentioned in my last post regarding this past Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, there has been a huge amount of rumor, misinformation, and innuendo floating all over the place, and we should do what we can to combat it.

Of course, one would hope that our media outlets, such as “The Most Trusted Name in News” CNN, would take such a task to heart, making certain to get their facts straight before they report the news.  But, sadly, in the era of the 24-hour “news” cycle, it appears that getting it right takes a back seat to getting it first.

I can think of no other way to illustrate this point more clearly than to reference The Daily Show’s incredible smackdown of just how badly CNN botched some major news regarding the bombing:

CNN-The Human Centipede of News

Yup, that’s CNN… the most busted name in news.

Posted in humor, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rumors and Misinformation in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2013

As you well know by now, there was a horrific bombing of the Boston Marathon yesterday on Boston’s Patriot Day.  Like many people, I spent much time last night discussing the situation online.  And, of course, in the aftermath of such an emotionally charged and upsetting situation, rumors, speculation, and – sadly – conspiracy mongering will run rampant.   However, I am of the feeling that knowledge is power, and it is better to say “I don’t know” than to speculate wildly; after all, as I told someone online last night: “rumors =/= knowledge”

So, in the spirit of spreading accurate information and squashing rumors, misinformation, and conspiracy mongering regarding the Boston Marathon Bombing, I would like to refer the reader to this collection of rumors and junk debunked from our friends at


Please take a few minutes to check that link, and by all means spread it far and wide over the Internet and via social media, because we do ourselves no favors by giving into our fears and allowing them to make us act irrationally.

Posted in conspiracy theories, internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Denver UFO: Yup, It’s Unidentified… So What Does That Mean?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 18, 2012

Over the last few days there has been a media sensation built up around a UFO in the Denver, Colorado area.  Here’s a closeup of the object in question:

Image source

The story has garned a great deal of attention, as evidenced by this video clip from a local news station…

Indeed, the news team does a so-so job of investigating this UFO, though there is a lot of sensationalizing in the report (surprise, surprise!), but there is one point I would like to emphasize in greater detail which this report totally glossed over.  That is the fact that this thing, whatever it is, is unidentified… as in Unidentified Flying Object.  Repeat after me three times: unidentified flying object… Unidentified flying object… UNIDENTIFIED flying object!!!

I want to be very clear on this point because, as I expected, the Internet is already abuzz with talk of alien spacecraft, government cover ups, and conspiracies galore.  And those leaping to this dubious conclusion (that the thing is “obviously not of this world”) are committing what is known as an argument from ignorance – that is, in one breath they will admit that we don’t have enough information to conclude what it is, but then in the next breath they will say, quite emphatically, that it HAS to be an alien spacecraft.

And such thinking contains a direct contradiction: the argument basically says that because we don’t know, then we know.  With reasoning as loose as this, one can “justify” the existence of leprechauns, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, or Invisible Pink Unicorns!  What the heck is wrong with saying “We don’t know” and just leaving it at that?

Incidentally, while the possibility of a plane or helicopter has been ruled out, it is likely that the object in question is a bug of some kind.  There is a very good article on this point over at the Illuminutti blog…

… OK – everybody now… it’s bugs.  This bug-UFO is especially bad because on some of the shots the insect actually hovers and moves around like an obvious insect. The videographer did not notice them because they were small fast-flying insects. Or perhaps they did notice the insects, but did not connect them to the unfocused black dots buzzing about on the video. It is also possible they know exactly what they are, but is just pranking  the local news station (hence the anonymity).

One or two shots in there are probably birds. You can see an apparent wing flap. Birds and bugs are common sources of UFO artifacts in the video age. They are small objects close to the camera that will appear as out-of-focus dots and streaks that can be mistaken (by the willful or truly incurious) for objects that are large and farther away. The fact that no one saw them live and there was no radar tracking should be a clue, but for the believer can just add to the mystery.

The lameness of this video being presented in breathless terms as a compelling UFO might have something to do with the declining interest in UFOs. Anyone with a genuine interest – enough to join a UFO group and try to find real evidence that UFOs are visiting ETs, would probably get tired of all the bugs and lanterns after a while. …

Posted in aliens & UFOs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Birthers Hit a New Low…

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2012

So there’s this nutjob… err, I mean law enforcement officer… named Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona who has apparently taken it upon himself to “prove” that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen (a conspiracy theory known as “birtherism“).  This has consisted of basically engaging in rampant conspiracy mongering that President Obama’s birth certificate (which you can see here) is a forgery, despite the fact that it has been certified as authentic repeatedly.  Well, in their quest to pursue their bigoted… err, I mean intense and serious… investigation of the citizenship of the POTUS, they have hit a new low.

And here it is:

The Globe Magazine… that bastion of journalistic excellence.  *Sigh* ‘Nuff said.

Posted in conspiracy theories, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

9/11 and “How the World Changed”: My Thoughts Ten Years Later

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 11, 2011

Here I sit on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and I find myself reflecting on the last ten years since that day.  I wanted to write down some of my thoughts in this blog post, because when it comes to the issue of 9/11 specifically and the broader issue of terrorism in general, I think there is much need for skepticism and critical thinking.  This is most especially true because of the high level of emotion and passion the whole issue of 9/11 invokes, and when our emotions are stirred so strongly we must make sure to temper our passion with reason.  So, here goes…

After ten years, what has become glaringly apparent to me is that the events of 9/11 changed things, but in my opinion it was not really in the way that many people think.  First, I have to say that every time I hear someone say or read that “On Sept. 11th the world changed” or something similar, I just have to shake my head because I think this kind of statement shows an interesting bias.  I say this because, fundamentally, nothing about the world around us really changed on that day – both before and after 9/11, the Earth turns on its axis, the sun rises and sets, and the universe trundles merrily along.  What did change on that day is the perspective which many people, mostly those of us within the United States, view the world around us.  It is unfortunate, I think, that many of us conflate these two things in our minds: we equate how they view the world with how the world actually works.  And this is, I think, the cause of much irrationality and muddled thinking.

Many of us were shaken to our core at the horrors we witnessed as not one, but two, planes slammed into the World Trade Center buildings, and as we heard the news of the attack on the Pentagon.  The sight of the Twin Towers collapsing further sent a shudder down our collective spines, and we lamented the seemingly senseless loss of life in such magnitude.  In some ways, we were brutally and startlingly shaken out of our complacency, which for some consisted of a belief that we in the United States were somehow – magically – immune to such devastation.  And when evidence to the contrary was presented to us, in a most horrific fashion, the reaction of many was precisely what one would expect: fear and anger.

There have been a lot of things written about 9/11 and its aftermath, but one thing I want to note is the manner in which many different people have reacted to the fear and anger brought to the surface due to 9/11: by seeking out some kind of evil “Other” to use as a boogeyman.  Now, don’t misinterpret me here – it is obvious that the attacks of 9/11 were planned and carried out by Al Qaeda, and the concern about groups such as Al Qaeda and the terrorism they perpetuate is a legitimate subject of concern that should be addressed.  What I am talking about goes beyond pointing out the very real threat posed by groups such as Al Qaeda; I am instead speaking of a broader pattern which has become apparent to me over the years.

For example, there are some people who have chosen the “Other” to be all Muslims, equating them with terrorists.  They point to the religion of Islam and its followers and make erroneous statements that we are now in some kind of cultural (or, more disturbingly, “holy”) war between the Western world and the Islamic world.

There are also those who choose the nefarious “Other” to be atheists and godless liberals.  These people tend towards the view espoused by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that the Sept. 11th attacks were somehow a punishment from God against the United States for our nation tolerating atheism and homosexuality in our population.  Many people who cater to this view of the “Other” also seem to view all Muslims as the enemy, as stated above.

Then some people take a look at 9/11 and see the “Other” as the United States government or some portion of it.  These tend to be the people who buy into various 9/11 conspiracy theories, and they are in complete denial about the mountain of facts and evidence that show the September 11th attacks were the result of terrorism at the hands of Al Qaeda.  Many of these people also have a talent for blatantly denying physics in an attempt to justify their worldview, and some even try to work in versions of anti-Semitism by implying that 9/11 was some kind of Jewish plot (thus making Jews the “Other” as well).

Last, but not least, there are those – many of whom are in the skeptical movement – who blame all religion as the evil “Other”.  This includes many of the so-called New Atheist writers (many of whose writings I have read and, in many ways, admire) who seem to think there is something inherently dangerous about any kind of religious belief.  I think it is worth noting that many who call themselves skeptics should be a bit skeptical of making such a sweeping generalization without a more rigorous analysis of the available data.  For reference on this particular point, I suggest the reader listen to a recent, excellent interview of Scott Atran on the Point of Inquiry podcast.

There are numerous variations on this theme of paranoia, fear, and the desire to find an “Other” to blame for the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent repercussions throughout society since that day, but one thing that unites them all is an irrational desire to categorize the situation into a simplistic, black and white, us versus them kind of worldview.  This is perfectly understandable once you know that humans are basically tribalistic in the manner in which they form societies and groups within those societies.  We are, in many ways, hard wired to engage in this kind of simplistic tribal thinking, and we carry it out in our everyday lives all the time.

Our tribal tendencies manifest themselves in myriad ways: in what religion/God/gods we worship, in what political beliefs/parties we adhere to, in our choice of sports team that we support, and even among those of us who call ourselves skeptics.  Sometimes these tribal tendencies are relatively harmless, but in other situations they can be downright dangerous.

Of course, the problem is that in reality the world isn’t always so simplistic.  And this goes back to my original point about our perspective of the world is not the same thing as how the world actually works, which forms the core of this particular blog post.  Most especially when we are frightened and our passions are inflamed by events such as Sept. 11th, it is critical that we not make the fundamental mistake of buying into this mode of thinking because it is the very root of how so much thinking can go terribly wrong.

In closing, allow me to finish with this thought: September 11th, 2001 was an awful enough day as it was… we shouldn’t add insult to injury by allowing our darker natures to overwhelm our ability to reason.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Conservapedia Disconnected from Reality: Einstein’s Theories Are a Left-Wing Conspiracy?!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 15, 2010

We’ve all heard of Wikipedia, which tends to be a pretty decent source of info – at least most of the time – because it can point a reader to a lot of good primary sources of information.  It seems that some time ago, ultra-conservative religious fundamentalist nutbag Andrew Schlafly decided that Wikipedia had a “liberal bias” and started his own wiki called Conservapedia which has a very obvious conservative, right-wing bias.

In a post that is almost so crazy so as to be indistinguishable from parody – a phenomenon known as Poe’s Law – Andrew Schlafly has put an article up on Conservapedia claiming, no kidding, that Einstein’s theory of relativity is a sham & just part of a vast left-wing conspiracy. This recent article from Talking Points Memo Muckraker outlines the stupidity and down-the-rabbit-hole thinking from Schlafly…

Conservapedia: E=mc2 Is A Liberal Conspiracy

Andrew Schlafly and Albert Einstein.  One of these is a scientist who revolutionized physics in the 20th century, and the other is a religious fundamentalist douchebag who wants to rewrite history & ignore science in order to fit everything into his twisted little worldview (guess which is which).

To many conservatives, almost everything is a secret liberal plot: from fluoride in the water to medicare reimbursements for end-of-life planning with your doctor to efforts to teach evolution in schools. But Conservapedia founder and Eagle Forum University instructor Andy Schlafly — Phyllis Schlafly’s son — has found one more liberal plot: the theory of relativity.

If you’re behind on your physics, the Theory of Relativity was Albert Einstein’s formulation in the early 20th century that gave rise to the famous theorum that E=mc2, otherwise stated as energy is equal to mass times the square of the speed of light. Why does Andy Schlafly hate the theory of relativity? We’re pretty sure it’s because he’s decided it doesn’t square with the Bible.

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Posted in conspiracy theories, physics denial/woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Skeptical Advice Column: Ask Surly Amy!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 14, 2010

In one of those “why didn’t I think of that?!!” moments, I just saw an awesome post over at – one of the Skepchicks, Surly Amy, has decided to start an online advice column for skeptics.  Check it out! :)

Ask Surly Amy

June 14th, 2010 by Amy · 5 Comments

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Recently, Dear Abbey screwed up big time. Some poor lady wrote in asking for help because she was afraid that when her family died they’d follow her around watching her poop and stuff. Dear Abby’s response? Yeah, the ghost of her dead mother-in-law probably WILL watch her get it on with the MIL’s son, but just because she’s so frigging happy for them and not because she’s a giant ghost perv.

We need a new, more rational advice columnist and we need her NOW. That’s why we’re introducing a new feature: Ask Surly Amy. Send your questions using the contact form and be sure to choose “Ask Surly Amy” from the menu, and our resident surly girl will dish out skeptical advice on anything from relationship problems to etiquette questions to pervy hauntings.

Here’s our very first installment. Enjoy!


Ask Surly Amy

Hello there.
I have a bit of a problem and it’s kind of a niche one and I don’t
have anyone really to ask so I thought someone here could help me?
I’m just gonna come right out and say it. This guy I’m sorta kinda
dating is a conspiracy theorist. I like him, but I have certain
standards that he’s not meeting. Namely being a skeptic.
Now, I know love is out there for me in the form of a skeptic man, and Rebecca taught me that.
Should I pursue a relationship? His conspiracy stuff
is gonna bother me and I’ll always be afraid that I can’t just let it
be. In a friend, I’ll tolerate ghost belief, alt med, and all other
forms of nonsense, but I don’t think I could have a boyfriend who
believes that stuff. I know people of different opinions can have a
relationship, my mother is jewish and my father is a lutheran, but
this is a big one.
Any advice? I know you can’t decide for me, but I’d like some
outside skeptical input.
Thanks so much!

First of all, thank you for being our very first Ask Surly Amy participant! Your prize is our gratitude and the following advice.

Explain Occam’s Razor to the guy this way:
Either you stop pursuing irrational belief systems or I am going to cut you (out of my life.)

The simplest explanation is usually the correct one and the simplest explanation here is for you to dump the con-nut.

Some things you can totally overlook. Like if your significant other enjoys listening to Barry Manilow, that’s completely fine. At least it is something you can deal with. But if your significant other likes to listen to Barry Manilow while trying to convince you that Lady Gaga conspired with George Bush to take down the twin towers to divert attention away from the war, well then it’s clearly time to move on.

My advice is to lose Mr. paranoid-delusion AND get yourself a ticket to TAM this year! You will be pleasantly surprised by how many hot skeptics will be hanging out at the bar and at the Skepchick party!

See you then!

~Surly Amy

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

*Ask Surly Amy is meant for entertainment purposes only. All advice should be taken with as much skepticism as anything else, really.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conspiracy Theorists Gear Up After Release of Oklahoma City Bombing Video

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2009

Recently, the FBI released some video footage from cameras in the area around the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19th, 1995.  The video came from a variety of cameras from sites surrounding the Murrah Federal Building, the target of the bombing.  And, true to form, conspiracy theorists have already jumped all over the release of the videos…

Attorney: OKC bombing tapes appear edited

Long-secret security tapes showing the chaos immediately after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building are blank in the minutes before the blast and appear to have been edited, an attorney who obtained the recordings said Sunday.

“The real story is what’s missing,” said Jesse Trentadue, a Salt Lake City attorney who obtained the recordings through the federal Freedom of Information Act as part of an unofficial inquiry he is conducting into the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. …

… The tapes turned over by the FBI came from security cameras various companies had mounted outside office buildings near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. They are blank at points before 9:02 a.m., when a truck bomb carrying a 4,000 pound fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb detonated in front of the building, Trentadue said.

“Four cameras in four different locations going blank at basically the same time on the morning of April 19, 1995. There ain’t no such thing as a coincidence,” Trentadue said. …

… “The interesting thing is they spring back on after 9:02,” he said. “The absence of footage from these crucial time intervals is evidence that there is something there that the FBI doesn’t want anybody to see.

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Posted in conspiracy theories | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

“Natural Cures” Douchebags Use Patrick Swayze’s Death to Push Their Woo

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 18, 2009

Like many of you, I was saddened to read the news of Patrick Swayze’s untimely death – Roadhouse will forever be one of my most favorite movies.  Unfortunately, there are those who will look to take advantage of any opportunity to push their pseudoscientific nonsense, just as the douchebags over at have done regarding Swayze’s death.

Swayze died of pancreatic cancer, and he fought the disease as best he could using science-based medicine.  But in an article apparently based in an alternate reality, these anti-science-based medicine folks state that it is precisely because he relied on science-based medicine that he died.  You’ve that right, folks: according to these deluded people, science killed Patrick Swayze!  *facepalm*

Patrick Swayze dead at 57 after chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Beloved actor Patrick Swayze died yesterday evening after a 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Having put his faith in conventional chemotherapy, he largely dismissed ideas that nutrition, superfoods or “alternative medicine” might save him, instead betting his life on the chemotherapy approach which seeks to poison the body into a state of remission instead of nourishing it into a state of health.

Okay, so these morons start pushing the “chemotherapy = poison” line right off the bat.  This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to scare people about a useful & serious method for combating cancer.  By equating it with poison, they try to leave the reader with the impression that nothing good comes out of chemotherapy, despite the fact that it is one of the most reliable methods of treating cancer available.  Which leads to the next part of the article…

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Whoopi Goldberg’s Comments on the Moon Landing: Amazing *Facepalm* Moment

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 24, 2009

Whoopi Goldberg on “The View” earlier this week seriously entertains some of the Moon Hoax conspiracy woo…

Who took the photos, Whoopi? It’s called a tripod…

This one’s just for you, Whoopi…


Posted in conspiracy theories, media woo, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


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