Student presentations, Part II (December 7-11)

Your presentations continue. Remember the rules: Each presentation is about ten minutes, followed by no more than five minutes of questions; each presentation is supported by a PowerPoint (or equivalent) slide show; and you are giving the presentation to the whole class, not just me. I also expect full participation by the student audience. As a summary, here is the Presentation and Paper assignment.


Matt Hartzell Who really was William Shakespeare?
Ellie Howell Survival: The “Compelling Force” at Dyatlov Pass
James Rankin Darth Hitler and His Planet-Destroying Wonder Weapons



Isaac Shore Free Energy May Be a Possibility of the Future, But For Now It is Only a Conspiracy
Mirkamil Mijit Are GMO Foods Produced by Governments to Reduce the Population on Earth?
Kenzie Rogers Astrology and the Supposed Mechanisms Behind It


FRIDAY: Summary session for the last day! (Plus food and drink of some sort.)


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Student Presentations, Part I (November 30 – December 4)

Your presentations start at last! Remember the rules: Each presentation is about ten minutes, followed by no more than five minutes of questions; each presentation is supported by a PowerPoint (or equivalent) slide show; and you are giving the presentation to the whole class, not just me. I also expect full participation by the student audience. As a summary, here is the Presentation and Paper assignment.


Harrison Walls What Caused the Mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center Building 7?
Amy Kim The Lost Continent of Atlantis
Andrew Klein Conspiracy Theories about the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy



Zach Lyon Nessie: The Plesiosaur That Never Was
Aditi Sringeri The Glimpse of After-Life is a Result of the Brain’s Shock After a Near-Death Experience
Kass Murphy The Slenderman Stabbing: Who is to Blame?



Will Gore Why the Idea of Chemtrails Has No Standing in Either Science or International Politics
Eva Iannuzzi How the 1969 Apollo Moon Landings Were No Hoax — the Skeptics Are Wrong
Leah Ro Blood Type Personality Theory: A Relic of Eugenics in East Asian Countries


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Apocalypse Now! (November 24)

Our official topic for this one-day week is a discussion of the last two chapters of the Barkun book (the 2012 apocalypse predictions and the conclusions). We can probably summarize these ideas with a conversation about your answers to Why People Believe Weird Things. We delayed this from last week because of the events in France.

Start thinking about your presentations to the class on your research topics. These will be done after the Thanksgiving Break. Each of you will have a set of PowerPoint slides you develop for ten-minute presentations followed by five minutes of questions. Here is your Link Assignment for Monday, and here again is the Research Paper Assessment sheet. For an idea of the scope of the research paper in this course, check out this Sample FYS Research Paper (pdf). As a summary, here is the Presentation and Paper assignment.

Nonsense in the News –

The growing nonsense about the Paris shootings of 11/13 as a hoax: 10 Ways it Looks Like a Hallmark False Flag Op. There will only be more of this.

Finally, creationism seems to be fading in the USA: “The people responsible for this shift are the young. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 73 percent of American adults younger than 30 expressed some sort of belief in evolution, a jump from 61 percent in 2009, the first year in which the question was asked. The number who believed in purely secular evolution (that is, not directed by any divine power) jumped from 40 percent to a majority of 51 percent.”

The 10 worst anti-science websites, courtesy of Skeptoid.

Bigfoot hair found in Ohio! See how far this gets through the testing. I’m sure our friend Dr. Meldrum will be on it soon.

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The most recent conspiratorial nastiness and its consequences (November 16-20)

Monday will be devoted to peer reviewing of your Short Paper #4 essays, followed by a discussion of your ideas about Why People Believe Weird Things.

The horrific events of Friday the 13th in Paris will be our topic on Wednesday and Friday. We will examine the growing “false flag” conspiracy theories that are already developing, as with this article. Type “Paris false flag” in a search engine and watch the nonsense emerge. We will talk on Monday about your specific assignments for Wednesday and Friday. (See the Preparation Questions.)

Remember: your revised and final Short Paper #4 is due at 8 am on Friday, November 20, as a Word attachment to email. This is the version you complete after you finish the Peer Review assignment.

Start thinking about your presentations to the class on your research topics. These will be done during the last two weeks of the semester. Each of you will have a set of PowerPoint slides you develop for ten-minute presentations followed by five minutes of questions. You will also choose a reading in advance for the class, usually done by giving me a link to put on this course website.

Here is your Link Assignment for Monday, November 23. Here again is the Research Paper Assessment sheet.

Nonsense in the News –

The tragic, cruel and outrageous bombing of that Russian airliner over Sinai has hurt Egyptian pride and their economy. Conspiracy stories are emerging now blaming the West for staging the event.

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9/11 troofers (November 9-13)

This is a difficult topic for all of us. You know I’m not holding my views back, and I have demonstrated that I think the 9/11 conspiracists are fountains of nonsense. However, you are encouraged to openly debate the issues, and we will attempt to give the “alternative explanations” a fair hearing in this course.

Let’s start with some standard websites presenting the mainstream, conventional perspective on what happened before, during and after the attacks on September 11, 2001. The September 11 Digital Archive is a large and growing collection of stories and images of that day from many sources. (You can, in fact, contribute your own story.) You are unlikely to read it all, but you should at least know that the National Commission On Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States (otherwise known as the “9/11 Commission”) has its long report available online. You may also be interested in the website detailing legislation related to the 9/11 attacks created by the Library of Congress. Searching “9/11 attacks” on Google now produces over 24 million websites, so the amount of information out there is overwhelming. The Library of Congress has an excellent September 11 Web Archive with a searchable database to help you navigate through the crowd. (We definitely get our tax money’s worth from those fine library folks in Washington.) The 11 September War on Terror Portal is a private website designed to remind Americans just why we are still at war today.

Now for the “alternative perspective” on the 9/11 attacks. Certainly the largest website of all is that of the original “Scholars for 9/11 Truth“. They’ve now split into the two groups you see on the front page. You’ll find plenty of advanced degrees in that crowd, for what they’re worth. There is also the 9/11 Truth website, 9/11TruthNews, Artists for 9/11 Truth, and 9/11 share-the-truth. (Clearly a run on domain names with “truth” in them.) The Wikipedia article on the “9/11 Truth Movement” is a battleground for these groups, if you want a glimpse into their underlying politics. There are hundreds of 9/11 conspiracy sites now, so this survey will have to do for this week. Let’s end with a “one-page” version called “9/11 Proof“. (It is a very long “one page”!)

The most popular film among the “9/11 Truthers” is “Loose Change“, now in a second edition. It has now been downloaded from the Internet over millions of times. There is also the online “Screw Loose Change” blog and video collection we’ll talk about later.

Remember: Short Paper #4 is due at 8 am on Friday, November 13, as a Word attachment to email. Here is the Research Paper Assessment sheet.

Nonsense in the News –

The latest Chapman University Survey of American Fears has been posted. I’d say it is a mix of good news (the low numbers) and bad news (the astonishingly high numbers).

A psychological profile of conspiracy theorists. Sounds like an article you might want to read for your Short Paper #4!

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The evil that lies beneath (November 6)

Remember that we don’t meet Monday or Wednesday. I’m at a geological meeting in Baltimore. We meet only on Friday of this week.

Oh but I have something to keep you occupied while I’m away: a crazy documentary: Dulce Base, THE TRUTH YOU SEEK! Oh it has it all: Underground bases, aliens, the New World Order, assassinations, reptiloids, hybrids, and brave citizens willing to speak out. Please watch this video before Friday, keeping track of the characters and overlapping conspiracies.

The Dulce Base and all that flows from this mythical place is our topic for Friday. It is well covered in the Barkun textbook and the above video. If you like, search for it online and drink deeply of the delicious nonsense. Our job, of course will be to place these ideas in social and political context.

You may begin working on this assignment: Short Paper #4 due at 8 am Friday, November 13, as Word attachment to email.

Nonsense in the News —

The Southern Poverty Law Center has just produced this excellent report on conspiracy theories that have gone mainstream. You’ll see many of your favorites. They have a compelling set of arguments for why this nonsense can catch on so quickly.

I don’t often get to recommend Cracked videos: The Truth Behind Every Internet Conspiracy Theory!

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I, for one, welcome our new lizard overlords (October 26-30)

Our title this week is ultimately derived from a novel by H.G. Wells. You can substitute insects, reptilians, computers, or any other scary entities. Aliens and their crazy flying spaceships fit in well.

We are reading chapters 5 and 6 in the Barkun textbook this week. The author uses UFO conspiracy movements as precursors to today’s New World Order-fearing subculture. (If you have the time, “documentaries” by David Icke can take you on this wacky journey.) The UFO phenomenon reached its peak during the Cold War (my childhood, really) and spread over the years into alien abductions, men-in-black, reptilian take-overs, and ancient alien theories. Most of what you’ll be reading in the text is historical, but play close attention to the threads of paranoia that stretch from the bomb shelters of the 1950s into today’s survivalist bunkers.

Nonsense in the News —

Here’s a nice blog post summarizing a recent study of a key piece of evidence in the JFK assassination case: the photo of Lee Harvey Oswald posing with the rifle he used to shoot the president. In short, the photo is real, of course. Case closed.

This New York Times article entitled, “The Strange Case of Anna Stubblefield” is a haunting story of race, class, disabilities and wishful thinking centered around the pseudoscience of “facilitated communication“. We may use this well-written piece later in class.

From Doubtful News, an article on former basketball player Lamar Odom and his sudden health problems after taking “dietary supplements” that were dangerous and entirely legal.

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The Illuminati are watching and waiting (October 19-23)

We’re now getting into material that overlaps with many of your research projects, so you’ll be expected to add your newly acquired information to our discussions.

Chapters Three and Four of Barkun concerns the familiar topics of the New World Order and the Illuminati. Note how these subjects easily flow from our previous discussion of millenarian thinking and the “paranoid style” of conspiracism. You’ll want to look into iconic organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers, and the John Birch Society. The massive InfoWars site hosted by Alex Jones and his organizations is an excellent source for nonsense in this vein. The more modern versions of these Cold War conspiracy theories involve the famous Black Helicopters, FEMA concentration camps, mind control, gun confiscation and our old friend Antichrist. We have tapped into a very rich vein indeed!

Nonsense in the News —

Doubtful News is a great source for news and analysis about the paranormal, anomalies, pseudoscience and the like. Here’s their article on the October 7th Doomsday people on the day after nothing.

Disgraced and disgraceful “faith healer” Peter Popoff still finds people guilable enough to give him money. I thought this guy was done after being brilliantly exposed by James Randi in 1986. No shame.

Is there a secret government space program? A classic account loaded with rhetorical questions.

“Viewed from afar, the world seems almost on the brink of conceding that there are no truths, only competing ideologies — narratives fighting narratives.” From a New York Times editorial.

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Millenialism and stigmatized knowledge (October 5-9)

This week our reading is chapter 2 in the Barkun text. We will discuss this material on Monday and Wednesday, and then on Friday you make your short thesis statements from your Conspiracy Paper due on Friday at 8:00 a.m.

Barkun outlines five categories of “stigmatized knowledge” (knowledge marginalized or denied by the establishment). When you look at that list you’ll recognize quickly where your research topics and favorite conspiracy theories lie. (We do love our classifications!) My favorite category is “rejected knowledge”, which includes Bigfoot (sorry Dr. Meldrum!) and alien abductions (which we don’t hear much about these days).

“Fact-fiction reversals” is a surprising feature of modern conspiracy thinking. This is the concept that popular movies (think Independence Day, zombie films and the Star Wars franchise) are actually designed to prepare us for something shocking (like an alien invasion) or slowly indoctrinate us to accept the coming New World Order. You might want to explore this theme with your favorite fiction and see who believes it is real or carries hidden messages. (Harry Potter is just the start!)

Note that we’re now well into the topic of millennial thinking, which we defined and assessed last week. Barkun believes that the United States, at least, is in the midst of its most significant interval of millennial thinking in history, for some very distinct reasons. One in particular is the rise of the “improvisational millenarian style” that borrows concepts from a variety of traditions. Breaking free of particular ideological or religious constraints has acted as a multiplier of conspiracy theories and utopia cults.

Here is a link to the Newheiser et al. (2011) article I’d like you to read for form and style by Wednesday’s class. We’ll have a further assignment later.

Nonsense in the News —

Alex Jones is again in the news. This time he ranted about the Pope, claiming: “He’s calling for one-world religion. Oh my gosh. If he gets his way, a billion people will starve to death in the next 10 years. I mean, it’s just a death sentence to the third world. But everyone says we must bask in his glow. I’m gonna vomit.” It doesn’t have to make sense to sell.

It is claimed to be the “best UFO footage ever recorded“. You be the judge. A silvery disk over Vancouver promoting the concept that UFOs are nuts-and-bolts spacecraft.

A conspiracy theorist explains why he’s still single!

A dinosaur skull on Mars? News to me. This comes from the “anomaly hunters” at the “Mars Moon Space Photo Zoom Club“. This reminds me of the very earthly Hallettestoneion Seazoria Dragons. Don’t mix them up with dinosaurs!

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Conspiracies! An introduction (September 28 – October 2)

This week we begin the conspiracy theory portion of the course, moving from the Schick and Vaughn text to the one by Michael Barkun (A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America). Note from the start, a clue of which is in the title of the book, that we are not simply cataloging conspiracies but exploring why conspiracy theories arise, what sustains them, and what are the consequences of believing they are true.

I love studying conspiracy theories. It is not only the variety of conspiratorial topics, the incredible details their proponents develop, and the passions with which they are promoted, but also the inescapable contradictions and conflicts between these alternative worldviews. For example, go to the Wikipedia page on the “9/11 Truth Movement” and scan through one of the many “talk” pages in the archives. There are huge battles here about basic observations, and even bigger ones over who is a secret government disinformation agent. (I’ll try not to cite too many of these lame one-person videos!)

The best place to go for an online general view of conspiracy theories is (you guessed it) the Conspiracy Theory Wikipedia page. As you also might have suspected, it too has a discussion page with deep archives populated by trolls who insist their ideas certainly should not be listed among these obviously bogus claims. This page has many references to larger studies of conspiratorial thinking and social paranoia.

Of course you must skim through at least one reptilian conspiracy video this week! What would we do without David Icke to warn us? We will cover particular theories in detail later.

Nonsense in the News —

Alex Jones is this country’s most famous conspiracy monger. He is so over-the-top that many wonder how much of his show is simply a performance. (The latest example: ranting about the Pope.) It is rather satisfying to see how so many fellow extremists believe Alex Jones is a “Zionist shill”. What comes around …

The latest conspiracist trolls: Roanoke Truthers. It is easy to be a fountain of nonsense while anonymous on the web.

Ultimately the rise of nonsense in a society is correlated with a decline in knowledge and critical thinking. This study of the American public’s skill in science will not make you feel very positive about our future.

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