There’s a certain arrogance and laziness to people who buy into conspiracy theories and the paranormal. They want a cheap, easy way to gain an advantage over people that are having more conventional success than them. They want an easy insight, a “truth” they can cling to and claim as their own, to imbue them with greater inherent value.
With that in mind, it’s a pleasure to debunk these claims with just a few words. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth 20-30,000 of them, depending on the region.
10. 9/11 was a Planned Demolition
YouTuber RKOwens4 seems only slightly less devoted to ending the conspiracy theories surrounding the destruction of the World Trade Center as people like the creators of the multiple versions of Loose Change seemed to be to getting them going. His most popular and compelling video is the one where he debunks the notion that the Twin Towers and Building #7 fell because of explosives placed in advance. Specifically, it shows the missing sound of explosions and flashes that occur with planned demolitions, and explains that the often-cited smaller explosions that occur beneath the collapsing floors were the result of compressed air escaping through weaker exit points.
The notion behind dowsing is that desired objects can be found using seemingly unrelated materials, such as bits of metal at the end of a pendulum or wooden rods. No doubt the incomprehensibility of the “skill” is part of how it keeps resurfacing, such as it being used in the Vietnam War and that sort of thing.
But whenever it gets tested, as Richard Dawkins is seen observing in the above clip, it gets revealed over and over as absolutely nothing. It’s actually proved a surprisingly dangerous belief, particularly in regards to dowsing equipment such as ADE 651s and GT200s. Those worthless alleged bomb and drug detectors were sold to governments around the world for millions of dollars, and their uselessness has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.
Rods were camera anomalies of blurry elongated shapes with what looked like fins flying through the air that were claimed to be, among other things, extra-dimensional beings. That was until tests performed by the History Channel for the program Monsterquest were conducted in 2009 with both conventional and high speed cameras. They revealed that these supposedly-monstrous creatures were just regular insects, flying close enough to the camera and at the right speed that the motion of their flapping wings blurred together and their bodies elongated into rods.
Given the reputation that the History Channel has since developed for giving far too much air time to “Ancient Aliens” programs, it’s a nice change of pace to see them actually making reasonable points.
7. Magnetic Man
It was inevitable that James “The Amazing” Randi would be somewhere on this list. After all, he is the most famous magician of his time, and one of the most successful in regards to transitioning to skeptical inquiry late in his career. One of his finer moments of debunking took place on South Korean television in the mid-2000’s. When a man claimed that he had the power to hold metal objects to himself using only magnetic powers, Randi assumed that the individual was relying on an oil naturally generated in his skin called sebum. It took nothing more that a touch of talcum powder to take away the man’s supposed magnetic power.
James Van Praagh’s fame as a psychic and the producer of CBS’s Ghost Whisperer seems pretty unassailable. Even with highly-regarded media like South Park debunking the supposed psychic John Edwards, telepathy continues to be an enormously lucrative business.
Still, it’s fun to see it laid bare just how little there is to Van Praagh’s actual abilities. Here, none other than Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine among other achievements, details the easy tricks that Van Praagh uses (not particularly well) to give the credulous the impression that there’s anything to him. Would be nice if something would magically compel these phonies to get real jobs though.
5. JFK’s Assassination
Even fifty-one years after the fact, theorists continue to insist that some US government agents assisted Lee Harvey Oswald in murdering President Kennedy. Among the most cited evidence that Oswald did not act alone are the ballistics of how Kennedy’s head reacted to being shot, and the claim that approximately five seconds is too little time to get off the shots.
On the Showtime program Penn & Teller’s BS! (full name shortened for the kiddies reading this), they demonstrated that the nature of shots to solid objects is that they recoil in the same manner they did on Kennedy’s film. Their conclusion was that it would be completely possible for Oswald to get the shots off in that time, without assistance from anybody. Of course, given that both Penn and Teller are outspoken libertarians (Teller slightly less outspoken), it was probably with their noses held that they made a point which defended trusting the government.
James Hydrick pretended he had acquired telekinetic powers during his Asian studies, which included such subjects as kung fu and something called “gong fu.” His star plummeted ruinously during a 1980 episode of That’s My Line!, hosted by Bob Barker and featuring not just James Randi but a panel of psychic experts. Hydrick successfully made a pencil move on the edge of a table and flipped a page of a phone book while standing several feet away.
Then Randi stepped in and hypothesized that Hydrick was just blowing on the objects in question while keeping his lips together, and offered to see if Hydrick could do the same trick with paper scraps scattered around the phone book. Suddenly Hydrick had issues of “static electricity” coming from the lights and the scraps of paper, making the trick impossible. Even the three judges present that advocated psychic phenomena agreed that what they’d witnessed was not at all a display of telekinesis.
3. Holocaust Denial
“Holocaust on Trial” is a NOVA documentary from PBS about the work of Holocaust deniers like David Irving. While the framing device of dramatized courtroom footage is at best gratuitous, it features photographs and testimony from persons relevant to the Final Solution that more than makes up for it, and which makes this evidence available in a convenient manner.
That last part is especially handy, since YouTube and sites like it are so littered with videos of Holocaust denial that it’s hard to find anything as valid as this.
2. Near Death Experiences as Views of the Afterlife
Of course near death experiences (NDEs) are not paranormal. They’ve been experienced by people in the millions and described consistently, so surely they are real occurrences. But do they represent the things people often try to claim they do? Are NDEs assurances that there is life after death? Are the commonly-reported bright lights and images of faces from our pasts signs there’s heaven, some similar form of Nirvana, or maybe Perdition after we die?
According to Penn & Teller (15 minutes into the above video), for another very special episode of their show BS!, the answer is a very definitive “no.” Fortunately, they came to that conclusion in a manner that didn’t involve nearly killing themselves. Instead, they took results that came from controlled, repeatable circumstances, as the scientific method demands. They used reports from people in centrifuges for combat pilot training; from 1200 results, 218 reported that they had experienced the same thing as what’s generally described in a NDE, even though their lives were not in danger and they quickly returned to full health afterward. This offered a ton of compelling evidence that NDEs are a physical event, rather than any sort of spiritual one.
1. The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Hoax
Certainly there have been many videos and programs that have debunked the various claims that NASA did not land anyone on the Moon in 1969. Probably the best known is when the program Mythbusters tested them. While many of those have addressed the points very well, SG Collin’s video has a quality to it (not to mention unique information) that earns it our seal of special mention.
Collins begins by describing the rationale behind the claims that the Moon landing was filmed in a studio (multi-directional lighting, lack of stars in some photos, etc.). He then quickly dispels each of them. Shortly thereafter, Collins moves to a much fresher and more compelling topic: the nature of the live broadcast. Broadcasting the footage of the Moon being approached by the astronauts with the recording technology of the time would have required tapes the size of cars if it were prerecorded in some manner, something which reasonably would have been beyond NASA’s means at the time to use properly.
But Collins makes a point of potentially greater value throughout the video, one that even the sort of conspiracy theorist that needs Apollo 11 to be a lie on many levels will concede has value. He reminds us that all the time spent questioning the Apollo 11 mission is time skeptics don’t spend on the rightness of such matters as Indefinite Military Detention or financial bailouts. In short, don’t just ask questions and look for answers, but ask yourself if you’re asking questions worth answering.
Dustin Koski is also the author of Six Dances to End the World.