The new 21st century quackery

“Clairvoyants”, “New Age” followers, “conspiranoids”, astrologers, psychics, paranormal phenomena researchers, parapsychologists… charlatans have adopted or received a thousand different names, but even more creative than their “nomenclature” is their surprising and recently acquired talent to proliferate within the endless possibilities and impunity of the Internet. As it seems that they have come to stay, it is not a bad idea to take a look at some of their wacky stories, either to be forewarned or simply to have a good time.


(Source: Damien Liénard Flickr via Compfight cc)


Tricksters 4.0

It is to be thought that the impressive development experienced by humanity in these recent decades, especially in the scientific sphere and the communication technologies, should have helped to disseminate science as never before among the bulk of world’s population.

However, and even admitting that it has probably been like that in most of the cases, from time to time surprising and worrisome indicators and news arise, perhaps to counterbalance any possible excess of optimism. This is how it can be observed the great predicament creationist theories still enjoy in the USA, or the ignorance many Spaniards show about basic astronomical concepts like heliocentrism.

In any case, and leaving possible educational gaps aside, situation can become and does become much more surreal when, and highlighting the premise “more doesn’t necessarily mean better”, freedom of speech Internet and social networks offer to every human being without distinction on the one hand, and a widespread illiteracy among common citizens when it comes to identify trustworthy informational sources on the other, makes it possible for countless conspiracy “theories” not just to rise but to spread, stories that, over time, have articulated in tales faithfully followed by countless supporters around the world.

Trying to refute or rebut here all this nonsense would be a task as Herculean as ungrateful this article, as it is understandable, is not going to endeavour. Not only for the huge size of such a task, also because one of the most characteristical features of these peculiar environments is the existence of a systematically applied bias, apart from the fact that it is not to be forgot that the onus probandi, which is the responsibility of providing evidence and consistent arguments, is always and necessarily in who says something, and it has to be said that the lack of any evidence is, by the way, another common feature among world “conspiranoids”.

Therefore, this article will simply take a look at some of the most laughable or picturesque examples, discuss those mental mechanisms that might make this type of reasoning unique and apparently quite attractive for many, those different traits that tend to be common to all of them, some people who have dedicated themselves to publicly fight their false postulates, and some actual cases and examples of how similar ways of thinking have finished having tangible negative consequences.


(Source: Wikipedia)


Some among the most popular stories nowadays

We could start with a classic, still existing today despite its seniority: the supposedly faked landing on the moon. The story, in a nutshell, says more or less that USA government and NASA simulated the moon landing by astronauts of Apollo XI in 1969, and recorded its famous sequences and photographs on a secret television set, keeping the secret until today. Bolder versions even ensure that it was the famous film director Stanley Kubrick the one commissioned to film those sequences.

(A Funny Things Happened on the Way of the Moon, openly faked documentary that, in addition, was put on air on the Day of the Holy Innocents)

Oddly enough, however, there is a still more fantastic variant, according to which it was the Nazis who, as soon as in 1942, put a foot on our satellite for the first time, and not only there, but also on Mars in a no-return-mission that would have landed in 1945 or early 1946. In addition to so many unsupported explanations about the technology that allowed them to perform such a feat, or the fact that they had discovered there was an oxygen atmosphere on the moon, nor has never been very well explained why the Nazis did not use such scientific advances to win World War II.

(The comedy film Iron Sky (2012) is based precisely on that “theory”. Movie trailer)

In recent years different groups of people have come to assert, against any scientific evidence, that the Earth is flat. Describing how, according to this “theory”, things like firmament, the atmosphere, the shape of those celestial bodies that surround us or the movement of the stars are conceived, or whether that flat Earth is resting or is in free fall, would take too long, but although nobody has taken still any photograph of any chasm rushing into a dark void on the edges of the Earth it is instead possible to visit “The Flat Earth Society” website for further “information”.

Same as flat, however, the Earth could also be hollow, or that is what another of these particular groups thinks at least. In this case, apparently, there are two accesses to the centre of the Earth through caves or holes placed both in the North and in the South Poles, which, of course, are kept in total secrecy by every human government. Once inside, a series of highly improbable physical conditions would lead to a sky and an atmosphere similar to those outside, even with their own sun, permitting the existence of lush life and, why not, even dinosaurs. It is not a coincidence that one of the informational “sources” for this speech is Julio Verne´s fruitful imagination.

Another story as popular as it is old is about UFOs in general, and the very famous Area 51 in particular. Although alleged sightings of flying saucers and big headed little green humanoids, shocking accounts of abducted rednecks and cattle, or galactic ships supposedly crashing in Roswell, New Mexico, are all together at least 70-year-old, and even when the X-files television series is more than old fashioned, still there is a legion of people engaged in hunting spacecraft without having managed to provide any kind of serious evidence to date, very possibly because, and despite the latest technological advances, it is apparently compulsory working with poor quality cameras and a total absence of steady hands.

(Men in Black (1997) is another comedy film that knew how to take the best from conspiracy “theories”)

The so-called “chemtrails” are one of the best and most recent examples of paranoia. Apparently, one day someone decided, while observing those contrails engines of commercial flights use to randomly leave in the air, that those traces were, in fact, of chemicals products those flights would be secretly spraying on our heads in order to spread all kinds of evils among world population, from various diseases to products for mind control. Among all the possible objections that could be done to this “theory”, like the fact that spraying from dozens of kilometres high is completely ineffective, it is also striking to think how those same people responsible for such a Machiavellian plan would do to get rid of the negative effects of cheerfully and discretionally spraying evil products all around the globe.

Another recent “conspiranoia” affirms that AIDS do not exist, but they are an invention made by the almighty and greedy pharmaceutical companies with the complicity, of course, of the ‘official’ international scientific community and various other authorities. Some people, no doubt extremely recklessly, ensure even that both this disease and cancer can be cured with sodium bicarbonate. Not missing the case of people who, in order to demonstrate their theories, supposedly injected themselves with HIV infected blood in public, as did the famous Robert Willner, who undertook the experiment in his own person when his medical license had been withdrawn, and who died a few months later for unrelated reasons which prevented, of course, to effectively check his bold claims.

(Robert Willner injects himself with HIV infected blood in front of the cameras)

HAARP project, acronym for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, has been another source of inspiration for conspiracies. Officially, it’s a U.S. Government project whose facilities are located in Alaska and which is studying the ionosphere to improve radio communications and space surveillance. For some, however, it’s an extremely powerful military device capable of controlling global climate and responsible for a wide number of natural disasters recently happened, as the most recent earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.

11-S attacks on New York´s twin towers were also excellent raw material for conspiratorial minds. It is impressive the number of Americans (and non-Americans) who still believe those skyscrapers were demolished by Bush administration secret services in order to obtain a perfect casus belli to intervene in the Middle East, not missing those who directly claim that the planes that crashed into the World Trade Centre were, in fact, manned by CIA kamikaze agents. About the Pentagon attacks there are also numerous rumours circulating, same or even more daring than those about the twin towers.

(South Park also echoed, with its characteristic style, this conspiracy fever in their episode called Mystery of the Urinal Deuce)

Talking about more prosaic issues, some years ago (lasting till nowadays) there was a remarkable hysteria triggered by rumours about mobile phones causing cancer as well as impotence if worn for long hours near the testicles. Although there is still no scientific evidence that exposure to the electromagnetic waves used by these devices (of a much lower frequency than potentially harmful ones, such as X or gamma rays) could create any kind of health problem, many people do not trust yet.

(A very popular youtube video which turned out to be false)

The “reptilians” are, without a doubt, one of the most delusional fantasies. To summarize, a blood drinker alien race of reptiles, disguised in human shape of course, would be secretly controlling the world from the shadows. One of its greatest exponents, according to the famous “enlightened” David Icke, would be the Queen of England herself. There are different versions of this theory that even delve into different families of aliens with different characteristics according to each case.

(V tv series was, no doubt, a very good inspiration for reptilian stories)

Illuminati, freemasons and Jews in general have also been widely used as scapegoats, accused of being responsible for all kinds of misfortunes, including the two world wars. The book The protocols of the elders of Zion, labelled as an anti-Semitic libel for decades, as well as various stories circulating around a so-called “New world order” that actually exist from the 18th century, are good examples of conspiracies which, despite their age, do not seem to get old fashioned.

As the list of conspiracies could become almost endless it is necessary to let many others outside, even if extremely entertaining, as with the mind control techniques allegedly used by U.S. Government and known as “MK-Ultra”, the singer Elvis still alive and deliberately hiding somewhere, Hitler also alive and lurking out in Argentina, Paul McCartney´s double, Mijaíl Gorbachov as an undercover CIA agent in charge of destroying the Soviet Union from the inside, Philadelphia Experiment, Bermuda Triangle, the death of Princess Diana, the pyramids of Egypt built by aliens, the use of fluoride in the water to prevent mental development, SERPO project, Atocha 11-M terrorist attacks organized by PSOE with the complicity of national security forces, vaccines causing autism, transgenic food baseness risks, the hidden truth about JFK´s assassination…

(JFK film (1991), directed by Oliver Stone, openly portraits those conspiracy “theories” talking about president Kennedy´s assassination)

(Read the second part of this article here)

(Lee este artículo en español aquí)

2 responses to “The new 21st century quackery

  1. Pingback: La nueva charlatanería del siglo XXI | marcosmarconius·

  2. Pingback: The new 21st century quackery (part 2) | marcosmarconius·

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