William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Conspiracy Theorists Abound

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Jim Fedako (who wrote this piece; send him email) is a business analyst and homeschooling father of seven who lives in Lewis Center, OH.

Like clockwork.

The disappearance of a plane in Southeast Asia shakes conspiracy nuts to the ground. These quickly germinate wild—and I mean wild—explanations of the event. You know what I am talking about: all sorts of Hollywood-like tales of air pirates, hidden airstrips, remote islands, and such.

Words and their meanings are potent. And whoever controls those definitions holds tremendous power.

Consider the phrase free market. Many will claim the US economy, in spite of its myriad laws and regulations—at least 1,000 times more than the 613 Rabbinical Laws recorded in the Old Testament, is a free market. And once they have strawmanized the phrase, so to speak, they will then argue against it. “See, just look at the failures of the US economy. It is certain proof that a free market is inefficient and unfair.”

OK. Let’s skip that tangent since the meaning of the term “fair” has morphed from an ethic to egalitarianism, a rat hole for another day. Back to the disappearance of a plane.

A conspiracy occurs when two or more act undercover and in concert to achieve (usually) an evil end. So we can assume the disappearance of the plane is the result of some sort of conspiracy—two or more committed a covert act to change its course. And each explanation of the disappearance is a theory of what occurred. Put the two terms together and you have conspiracy theory. And those who submit or support any given theory are correctly termed conspiracy theorists.

So everyone one of us—those who have any cognition of current events—are conspiracy theorists. We each have our own explanation of what occurred. Nothing here. Right?

As time moves on, certain theories will come in or out of vogue. And, in the end, there will be a coalescing of the theories on what will become the official concatenation and sequence of events. This will be the explanation that is considered by government agencies as the one and only acceptable tale. Those who still believe an alternate tale will be branded conspiracy theorists—as if the official tale itself is not a conspiracy theory and those in government agencies are not, by definition, conspiracy theorists.

You claim, “Wait, the tale told by the state is based on facts.” Maybe, but probably not. Likely its explanation will be murky at best. And other theories will remain plausible as well.

When events rattle us, we search for an explanation. If those events are the product of human action, we assume some sort of conspiracy occurred. So we quickly become conspiracy theorists. However, when our explanation differs from the one espoused by government, we become conspiracy theorists—dangerous nut cases. A truly powerful redefinition of terms.

Nevertheless, to believe that pirates captured a plane in order to land it unseen, à la James Bond, on (say) a Southeast Asian island is really off-the-wall lunacy. And it might just be true.

——————————————————————

Editor’s note For a conspiracy theory loved by government and media which has been falsified, take the dark forces which fund global warming skepticism.

52 Comments

  1. free market does not exist without enforced rules.

    Now you might detect an “oxymoron” here, but I assure you this is not one. It is definitely not an oxymoron any greater than saying we have “free will” to obey God’s commands, for instance. But let’s not have simple ways of detecting bull excrement distract us from ranting at nothing in particular as you did.

  2. I think your use of the term “conspiracy theory” is stretched pretty thin, to the point of being very similar to calling corporal punishment “beatings”.

    A conspiracy does not have to be covert by some definitions. From dictionary-reference.com:
    4.Law. an agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act.
    5.any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result.

    Guess I can’t see how it helps anything to say any theory on what happens in secret is a “conpiracy theory” unless you’re trying to legitimize beliefs like we didn’t land on the moon, the masons are a threat to everyone, the non-lone gunman, contrails, etc.

  3. Briggs

    March 18, 2014 at 9:26 am

    A interesting media phenomenon are the number of aviation-ignorant reporters who invoke the pronoun “we” to describe what “we” know. It’s not only the farce of journalists who have “studied” the situation for a solid two hours and who become “experts”, but it’s the telling indignation that they (the journalists) feel owed an explanation. Much is buried in that “we.”

  4. Briggs, a solid two hours? That seems unlikely.

    The problem Luis is not the rules but the enforcement there of and the involuntary nature of who does the enforcing. When I was a kid we played marbles, sand lot baseball, engaged in the trading of valuable commodities, all sorts of things. There were plenty of rules, but there was no enforcer and we got along just fine. There was anarchy, which just means no government, but no chaos as we had spontaneous order. When I think about it most of the problems occurred at school with its endess and petty rules and the arbitrary and involuntary nature of the enforcement.

  5. While the various hi-jacking/terrorist scenarios are interesting, what we “know” is really meager…and, still, EVERYTHING known & strongly suspected about that aircraft’s behavior is consistent with what one would expect from a partial decompression subjecting the pilots to hypoxia. Under hypoxia short of unconsciousness/death, degraded behavior can be severe with the afflicted being unaware of how profoundly idiotic their behavior, and perceptions, are.

    That’s one thing the media is consistently getting wrong — under hypoxia anyone, even a trained pilot, will act stupidly and under severe hypoxia they will behave radically irrationally.

    Structural failure at a satellite antenna, causing transmissions of some info would appear exactly as if someone switched off the transmitting instrument. A hypoxic pilot would also be reasonably expected to act stupidly and shut off a transponder (or, shut it off when trying to alter the setting to the emergency signal).

    Conditional Probability: When unusual events occur (such as the Malaysian flight gone missing, the Three-Mile-Island nuclear power plant disaster, etc., etc.) what one observes is the almost routine pattern of a series of highly improbable events occurring in just the right way to cause the mishap. Because such complex machines are also so important, they are designed with redundancies & extra safeguards — so, if something goes terribly wrong, it’s pretty much a given that the right combination of a series of highly improbable failures occurred to enable the mishap.

    I.E., Given that the disappearance of the Malaysian flight is highly improbable and unusual, benchmarks of other unusual events informs us we’re on rather safe ground to posit that there were a series of highly improbable events further conspiring in just the right, highly improbable, way to enable the event. That could be wrong, but that would be improbable.

    Consider:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_South_Dakota_Learjet_crash

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN3W4d-5RPo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IqWal_EmBg

    http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=hypoxia+YouTube&qpvt=hypoxia+YouTube&FORM=VDRE#view=detail&mid=99DDB3F8E4E382435FF899DDB3F8E4E382435FF8

    http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgad.nsf/0/d91639a24674ca8f86257c920050edf7/$FILE/2014-05-03.pdf

    http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/missing-jet/faa-warned-cracking-corrosion-problem-boeing-777s-n50591

    http://www.meriweather.com/flightdeck/777/ped/atc.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN3W4d-5RPo

  6. Sheri,

    re: “A conspiracy occurs when two or more act undercover and in concert to achieve (usually) an evil end.”

    Is that statement not true, even given definitions 4 and 5?

    Keep in mind I did not state, “All conspiracies are situations where two or more act undercover and in concert to achieve (usually) an evil end.”

  7. I have a meta conspiracy theory.

    All conspiracy theories are the product of a CIA psychological warfare operation.

    They are put out there so that if anyone ever discovers the real truth, they can be dismissed as a conspiracy nut.

  8. Jim: I understand that you did not say “all conspiracies are situations where two or more act undercover……” Yes, your statement is still true given definitions 4 and 5. You seem to be trivializing “conspiracy theory” in the hopes of watering down the generally used meaning. It reminds me of “sexual assault” being applied to a pat on the derriere. Watering down language makes serious things (like rape) reduced to the same level as a pat on the behind. If your intent was to trivialize the reality of conspiracy “nuts” who believe against all physical reality, you made your point.

    Ken: I had forgotten about the Learjet crash in SD. Guess there really isn’t much new. Good reminder thereof.

  9. @MattS,

    Sorry dude, but you got scooped by Greenwald/Snowden …

    https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipulation/

    Greenwald was on to Cass Sunstein and his ilk even before the Snowden affair
    http://www.salon.com/2010/01/15/sunstein_2/

    Harvard is a deep nexus for this sort of mind manipulation. (I love using spooky words like “nexus”!) The communitarians over there provide the academic whitewashing required to redefine terms like ‘justice’ in such a way as to give the State more power, while the policy wonks figure out how to infiltrate media to manipulate public opinion.

    (and you all know the enemies of Briggs who insert the subtle typos ..)

  10. There were plenty of rules, but there was no enforcer and we got along just fine

    Unenforced rules have little to no incentive to be followed. They must have been enforced if only through per pressure.

  11. Sheri,

    But who decides when a conspiracy theory becomes a conspiracy theory?

  12. Structural failure at a satellite antenna, causing transmissions of some info would appear exactly as if someone switched off the transmitting instrument. A hypoxic pilot would also be reasonably expected to act stupidly and shut off a transponder (or, shut it off when trying to alter the setting to the emergency signal).

    Get your point but, in general, double or serial failures are less probable if unrelated. Loss of a satellite (transmission I assume) antenna followed by a crash is less likely than a crash followed by loss of signal.

    In the US, the pilot is supposed to have oxygen readily available with quick donning masks when at Flight Levels. Most foreign and ICAO regulations are based on US rules. The Malaysian pilots may not have had readily available oxygen but this, too, seems unlikely.

    Entire cockpit crews have come down with bad cases of group stupidity. I remember reading an NTSB report about an airliner crash in Huntsville, AL where the entire crew was engaged in changing a light bulb while on final approach and no one was flying the plane. Preceding a midair collision between a PSA jet and a light aircraft in CA, the pilots joked about not looking for the light aircraft after being told about it and were talking about (of all things) life insurance policies.

    A hijacking wouldn’t need to be a conspiracy and the probability of one having happened is increasing.

  13. I guess the most usual use of “conspiracy theory” is belief in that which is highly improbable, as in there was not a moon landing. In the case of the missing airliner, belief that it was swallowed by a “Bermuda triangle” type area (that has been suggested) and governments don’t want us to know the area exists is out there would qualify. Until one reaches that level, it’s a theory that the plane may have been hijacked, may have had the pilots pass out, etc. When you start adding that Malaysia may have known this was going to happen and instructed the pilots to shut off the communicator and land the plane in maybe China so it can be turned into a way to deliver nuclear missiles (like no one would notice a 777 returning….) then you cross the line.

    How do you define something like “sexual assault”? When a guy pats a woman’s behind without written permission, when he touches her more aggressively, when he rips her clothes off or when he completes the assault via rape? These are not “equal” acts, but putting “degrees” on them hardly seems adequate to differentiate. We call them all by the same term and it waters down the severity. Same for any assault. If I hospitalize you by hitting you with a large bookend or I just slap you the two actions are very different, yet we call both “assault”. My concern is that by watering down “conspiracy”, you are approving of the far out, highly improbable or even physically improbable ideas. Not sure we want to encourage said things.

  14. “Editor’s note For a conspiracy theory loved by government and media which has been falsified, take the dark forces which fund global warming skepticism.”

    Or you could take the theory that global warming is a conspiracy by lefties to gain a one-world government. Dear, oh, dear…….

  15. Nullius in Verba

    March 18, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    The reason that ‘conspiracy theories’ have such a bad reputation is not simply that they are theories that posit a conspiracy (which do happen) but that they are theories for which there is no evidence, the absence of evidence being explained as the natural consequence of the conspiracy “covering it up”.

    If the powerful do something illegal or disreputable and then (sensibly) cover it up, a total lack of evidence is exactly what you would expect to see. Thus, if you see a total lack of evidence, that is itself confirming evidence for the hypothesis, matching a prediction of it. Any evidence for the theory is a genuine evidence for the theory that leaked out despite the conspirators efforts, any evidence against is part of the cover up, and there is therefore no possible evidence that can be presented that can contradict the theory.

    Formally, it’s just a form of the fallacy of confirming the consequent, but really refers to a psychological condition in which people form and then become obsessed with such a theory, warping their view of reality to fit everything into its pattern, and basing their self-image on their special knowledge of hidden forces behind events of which others are ignorant.

    It’s only a theory, but I suspect a lot of conspiracy theorists are actually undiagnosed borderline schizophrenics. One of the symptoms of schizophrenia is an enlarged sense of ‘salience’, where ordinary events are felt to have cosmic and symbolic significance. (An effect of excess sensitivity to dopamine in the hippocampus.) This commonly leads to delusions and paranoia, as theories are constructed to explain the apparent significance of things they see. The feeling of hidden forces moving behind everyday events is a part of that. It perhaps merits sympathy more than derision.

    However, if you’re ever concerned that you might be proposing a conspiracy theory, you should ask yourself the question “What is my actual positive evidence for this?” Is there any? And might it arise by selective attention to those bits that appear to confirm the theory while dismissing those bits that don’t? If there’s actual hard evidence of a conspiracy (like emails between the conspirators saying things like “can you delete the incriminating data, please”) then one probably shouldn’t worry.

  16. “Realist”: Or you could actually debate the science and leave out the conspiracy theories altogether, though in that case you would actually have to understand the science and be able to defend it. Conspiracy theory ideation is so much easier. (And yes, on both sides. Jumping to a conspiracy theory is a sure sign the science is weak or missing. You don’t need a conspiracy if you have a scientifically defensible theory.)

  17. Why & what type of theories? Conspiracy vs. natural causes??

    Which way a person goes is often indicative of their personality (how neurotic, insecure, etc. they are — like a Rorschach test [more insecure more inclined to evil conspiracy] — also how ignorant they are, or aren’t, about factors that may apply [with knowledgeable being inclined toward suitable natural causes]).

    There’s also the human tendency, when data is sparse & conclusions are speculative, to directly connect the available data points instead of introducing gap placeholders. People generally dislike uncertainty and go to great lengths to avoid it (and then, after investing in some theory, being loathe to admit they were wrong).

    THEN, there’s the news media — sensationalism & controversy & scandal sells so there’s a strong disincentive to be objective if objectivity leads to an innocuous conclusion. Where there’s a financial incentive for evil conspiracies, the press will deliver…

    EXAMPLE: Former security chief for the United States Federal Aviation Administration Billie Vincent [presumably a credible source] has gone on record discounting a hijacking of the now infamous missing Malaysian 777, citing a more likely scenario is a cargo hold fire–which easily could produce the observed pattern of system shutdowns. Smoke & smoke inhalation effects would also be consistent with the pilots attempting to re-route the plane back to Kuala Lumpur but ultimately being overcome by smoke. See: http://www.airtrafficmanagement.net/2014/03/exclusive-mh370-crew-succumbed-to-fire-catastrophe/

    Hannity/Fox News, a few days ago, actively suppressed any mention, and all follow-on discussion, of mundane “natural causes” such as hypoxia and forcefully steered the discussion to scenarios including a knowledgeable passenger with a special tool accessing the cargo hold via a floor trap door and then doing their dirty deeds, etc. Which is so far-fetched as to make a dopey sci-fi movie…or even cartoon….

  18. Ken, further on the fire scenario is this article re-posted at wired.

    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/03/mh370-electrical-fire/

  19. Sheri,

    Isn’t it bizarre to even suggest the theory that pirates (or agents of North Korea, etc.) captured the plane in order to land it on a remote Southeast Asian island? Did you entertain this theory or a similar one? Even for a few minutes?

    Likely the crash was the result of catastrophic failure of some sort. But we will likely never know for sure.

    The direction of your second paragraph lost me. Conspiracy theory is mostly used as a question begging epithet. In fact, you desire to use it in the same manner. Who decides what theory is correct?

    Keep in mind that anyone who even hints at a government agenda around climate change will be branded a conspiracy theorist. And, get this, they are — though without the italics.

  20. Jim: Before 9/11 I would have said the theory of landing it somewhere was crazy. Now, not so much now. Who knows what people can come up with? Of course, you can’t really land a 777 on a remote desert island, so no, no desert island, no “real life” Lost episode. I do reject the “Bermuda triangle” theory and flying into a worm hole. 🙂

    Evidence decides which theory is most probable. In the case of the missing plane, odds are good we will never know and the theories will continue to abound forever.

    I am fully aware of the fact that anyone who even hints at a government agenda with global warming is accused of believing in conspiracy theory and spend a lot of time explaining that a conspiracy is not necessary but rather plain old human tendencies and motivations. Perhaps that’s why your post bothers me–the conspiracy term gets thrown around constantly when in actually we may just be dealing with normal human behaviour.

  21. Sheri,

    So you were a conspiracy theorist, if only for a while.

    You are employing the proverbial kicking-the-can-down-road response with your reliance on evidence. Again, who decides if the evidence is true?

    I have yet to encounter a theory that does not rely on some (at least) modicum of evidence. Whether I agreed that evidence is relavent to the theory is a completely different matter.

  22. Jim–I suppose that depends on if you consider stealing a plane simple theft or a conspiracy.

    I would then ask–who decides if global warming evidence is real? Right now, those who believe say their evidence is right. Skeptics say no. We can certainly run this down to a fun little philosophical frolic about what is real and what is true and so forth. Generally I get a headache from it. Guess it lost it’s charm when it wasn’t two am in a college dorm. The answer is no one and everyone. The answer is we don’t even know if we are holograms or not, in which case one supposes the programmer decides. The answer is there is no answer and that there are many answers.

    How do you decide if the evidence is relevant to the theory and why should I believe you over say, my sibling who loves conspiracy theories and believes them religiously?

  23. Oh, Jim–if you do have a way to decide on the evidence, I could really use it since I spent one and half hours watching classes on global warming and a way to sort out the real from the unreal, the right from the wrong, and the fabricated from the just reported as is would be very, very helpful.

  24. Sheri,

    But you miss that others have spent two hour hearing a different tale.

    As far as, “I suppose that depends on if you consider stealing a plane simple theft or a conspiracy.” I suggest you reread definitions one through three.

    You want to your question begging epithet to go unassailed. But here’s something for you: both Classical Economics and Capitalism were coined by Marx and Engels. While I may consider Classical Economics a question begging epithet :), I am not at all concerned that Capitalism was coined in a vulgar sense. I accept it with pride.

  25. In the spirit of accurate communication, perhaps we need to more precisely identify the typical journalist/reporter with a name that more accurately describes the profession as it is commonly practiced. My suggestion is:

    Information Molester

  26. In 2 separate studies, Professor Stephan Lewandowsky found a correlation between conspiracy ideation and climate change denial.
    Of course the religious right can determine which science to accept & reject (such as this relationship) if it doesn’t fit with their existing ideology, thereby confirming Professor Dan Kahan’s research on motivated reasoning.

  27. While the theory of the hypoxic pilot is popular, it’s pretty weak. In general, hypoxia in aviation proceeds rapidly from normal consciousness to unconsciousness. O2 concentrations are unlikely to stay at the level where someone is significantly impaired but not disabled. Many of us have been trained in high altitude chambers in order that we would recognize hypoxia, but my experience there suggests that, most likely, one would just fall asleep.

    Likewise, conspiracy theories are a bit weaker than a lone pilot hijacker theory. The conspiracy requires at least two sociopaths willing to do the dirty deed. A lone pilot theory requires, well, just one. Higher probability, and 3 precedents in modern commercial passenger aviation of pilot suicide.

  28. John Moore,

    “Higher probability, and 3 precedents in modern commercial passenger aviation of pilot suicide.”

    I mostly agree with this, but that theory still has several problems.

    Why keep the plane in the air for so long before crashing it?

    Why go to so much effort to make the plane hard to find?

  29. @Matts – The precedent of suicide suggests not just suicide, but other pilot misbehavior – so suicide isn’t the only possibility whose likelihood is higher than a priori.

    A suicidal pilot might want the plane to not be found in order that shame not come on his family, or to allow life insurance to work. The suicide might be politically motivated, and making the plane disappear serves that. The suicide might be based on anger at customers, so disappearing the aircraft increases the pain to relatives. All in all, it’s hard to assign a motive, but there are plenty to choose from.

    It’s also possible that the pilot did not have a clear plan, and chose to go somewhere away from radar coverage to ponder his next move.

    And, of course, the pilot might be a terrorist. It could be a dry run, where preventing the aircraft from being found prevents countermeasures from being development.

    Or, the pilot could have been heading to an obscure airport. We don’t know.

    It is very, very odd that we have the information about the last “ping” of the satellite, but not the intervening pings. Hmmm.

    Quite a mystery.

    As an aside, it’s a place for statisticians to contribute. Modern SAR uses statistical method to optimize the deployment of search assets. My own experience is with Civil Air Patrol. If we search a grid and don’t find the aircraft, debriefing information will be used to derive the likelihood that it is a false negative – the aircraft was in the grid but we didn’t see it. This results in a revised probability for the grid, which modifies all other probabilities, feeding subsequent deployment decisions. Likewise, conditions reported on the search may modify probabilities for other grids – as a result, for example, of reports of snow cover.

  30. I once flew a SAR mission where we had a radar track believed to have been the missing aircraft. We searched that track to the point where it ended – the plane disappeared from radar. We didn’t find it. Subsequently, that grid was searched 12 more times (and grids are big – that’s a lot of searching) – by aircraft and helicopters. No joy.

    A few months later, people on the ground discovered the lost aircraft exactly at the point where the track ended. It had dived straight into the ground (stall-spin, probably induced by icing). It penetrated a Ponderosa pine forest canopy and hit the ground, disintegrating. It was white, and wasb shortly covered by snow fall.

  31. Jim–I think I’m missing virtually everything about what you wrote and what you failed to answer.

  32. Realist: I think you are on the wrong thread, but in answer to Lewandosky, his study was so flawed it took months to find any peers willing to publish it. It made him a laughing stock except amoung the true believers. His methodoloy was flawed, his sample not random in the least, and it’s highly likely he lied about actually placing the survery on any skeptic blogs (unless you count skeptical science as actually “skeptic” which is not true). He defined conspiracy in such a way as to get the results he wanted. Bottom line, bad science.
    Also, his survey said NOTHING about the accuracy of climate science whatsoever. It’s pretty evident you do not understand anything but appeal to authority, but not science or math.
    I can produce a study in the same fashion that Lew did and get any outcome I want using the right questions. Surveys are NOT science, they are at best marketing research and since Lew is not selling to skeptics, he can’t even claim that.
    (Note: If legitimate research showed skeptics were more apt to believe in conspiracy theories, the only thing that would show is that warmists aren’t selling that “big oil conspiracy” as well as skeptics are selling “big banking” or whatever the two are using. Bottom line, marketing survery, not science.)

    Other than a study in human psychology and the desire to believe in religion of some genre, conpiracy theory makes for interesting mind calethetics and that’s about it. I did research on actual conspiracy sites and found there is little or no correlation between conpiracy belief and belief in any other idea. It’s all over the map as far as beliefs go.

  33. Briggs–thanks. Didn’t mean to skip your previous post as a reference. My apologies.

  34. Sheri,

    You want to use conspiracy theory as a question-begging epithet. In other words, those you agree with are rational thinkers while those you disagree with are conspiracy theorists. In addition, for you, rational thinkers are only those who see the evidence as you see it. How is that any different from what is said and done by the other side of the debate?

    I also sat through hours long presentations where presenters refuted the supposed evidence of climate change and heard more than a few employ the same fallacies as the climate changists (to coin a phrase).

    In the balance, and in spite of obvious fallacies committed by those who conclude as I conclude, I believe climate change is real (in fact it is a tautology) but is not leading to the feared, politically-charged tipping point.

    Nevertheless, I am a conspiracy theorist in that I believe folks are conspiring to use climate change for political and personal gain. That the label has a negative connotation does not obviate the truth.

    Marx/Engel coined capitalism as a vulgar term. That sense still holds true for many while the opposite is held in esteem by others.

    As far as the definition of conspiracy, I find it strange that you ignore certain definitions in order to make a claim.

  35. Okay, Jim, I’ll try once more. I am not ignoring certain definitions. I am saying there are many definitions of the term and that is a problem. I did find definitions that were pretty much what you seem to be saying–that anything that involves two or more people (which as previously noted by a different commentator means pilot suicide is out for a conspiracy theory) coming up with an idea as to what happened and it may involve something naferious constitutes a conspiracy theory. That is one definition. As I previously stated, patting someone on the behind is defined at as sexual assault, but it doesn’t compare to actual rape. My point is we water down words and take away the meanings.

    My definition, used for all sides, of conspiracy is a secret (i.e., you can’t know about it, only surmise it) plan by individuals with more power than yourself to change society or business to their benefit, be it hiding the details of JFK or bankers conspiring to take over the world.
    I am very careful not to use the word “conspiracy” with climate change. Yes, it’s just my definition and you will undoubtedly disagree. I don’t believe anyone conspired to create this huge “conspiracy” of one world government and redistribution. I do believe that people with like goals work together and adopt philosophies that aid in that goal. To be totally honest, I don’t believe conspiracies exist more than a week or so, because human beings are incapable of keeping secrets for decades (yes, even the Masons, moon landings, and Reptilians).

    As far as climate change goes, I reject both sides when they behave badly and have written more than one blog post about bad science and bad behaviour on both sides, including one stating that it’s difficult to tell the sides apart sometimes without a scorecard.

    As for rational thinkers, I probably think outside the box more than most. I temper that with a healthy dose of reality, however. I read those conspiracy sites, discuss them with people and am open to new evidence. What I object to, as noted, is the watering down of the language. That was it.

  36. So bottom line for Sheri & Briggsy, psychological investigation is not science, climate change investigation is not science. My guess is we can throw in biological evolution as well.
    Ahh, the world of the sky fairy (religious) believer – motivated reasoning if ever there was.

  37. Briggs

    March 19, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Realist,

    Very good. A clear evasion followed by a weak attempt at sarcasm. Perhaps you can get this published in a peer-reviewed journal?

  38. Realist: Psychological investigation CAN be good science, though it’s far more difficult that say physics. The variable and the designs of the studies require much rigor. A survey is NEVER a scientific study. It’s a survey. Just like the 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed, Obama’s approval numbers, etc. Marketing uses surveys. Science uses rigorous testing of hypotheses.

    Climate change investigation is science, thought a lot of it is based on computer models and probability. Lew did absolutely nothing with the science of climate. Nothing. He did not address the limitations of models, he did not address the leveling of temperatures over the last 17 years, nothing. He surveyed people on their beliefs in a totally different area. Like asking journalists what they think of the quadratic equation.

    Your guesses are just that, guesses. Speaking of sky fairies, you have yet to tell us what you know about the science of climate. Define a few terms, throw out a few equations. That’s what climate change scientists do. Explain how models are made. Explain the error bars along side the values generated by models. Explain the difference between proxy and instumental data. Surely your science is stronger than the “sky fairy”, right?

    Seriously, you don’t know, do you? Maybe you could explain biological evolution–maybe how evolution explains metamorphosis. That one always fascinated me. How about just explaining that? There are theories on this. Show me you understand what you are complain about others not knowing.

  39. “Just like the 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed”

    Gave six different answers. 🙂

  40. John Moore,

    “A few months later, people on the ground discovered the lost aircraft exactly at the point where the track ended. It had dived straight into the ground (stall-spin, probably induced by icing). It penetrated a Ponderosa pine forest canopy and hit the ground, disintegrating. It was white, and was shortly covered by snow fall.”

    A 777 going down like that would leave one hell of an obvious hole in the forest.

    “Or, the pilot could have been heading to an obscure airport. We don’t know.”

    There aren’t that many airports where you could land a 777.

    One thought I have had: Given the arc that the last ping puts the plane on extends into the southern most portion of the Indian ocean. Has anyone considered looking for the plane on / near Antarctica? Think about it. The Antarctic ice cap is the one place you might have a chance of improvising an airstrip large enough to land a 777 without being noticed.

  41.  D  C o t t o n 

    March 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    It can be shown that the plane deliberately got into the radar shadow of another identical plane so that only one radar blip showed. This is a confirmed fact I read about, and you can find the link on Roy Spencer’s blog, DrRoySpencer.com and so the plane then crossed India and flew somewhere further north or west undetected. It had valuable battery stock on board I understand, which may have been the incentive. Hopefully they are safe in a hangar somewhere and feeding the passengers in exchange for their mobile phones.

  42. MattS: You’re good! 🙂

    (Six different answers)

  43. D Cotton,

    Not every airport has runways long enough to land a 777. Just where do you think that they are going to put it down without being noticed?

  44. Sheri,

    Ask any N medical professionals the same question and you will get between N+1 and 1.5N answers. Why? Because at least one and as many as N/2 will hedge and give what amounts to two answers in one.

  45. Sheri,

    According to Sean Hannity, the equivalent of a staged moon landing is now mainstream — the pilots flew the plane to Pakistan where it was safely landed. And the US government is aware of what happened. That is a conspiracy theory for certain.

    Better check those Apollo photos once more.

  46. @MattS “A 777 going down like that would leave one hell of an obvious hole in the forest.”

    Well, not nearly as big as you might think. The hole made by Flight 93 on 9-11 was less than 20 feet across. If you ever done searches from the air, you’d know that this would be easy to miss – especially in triple canopy jungle.

    “There aren’t that many airports where you could land a 777.”

    Not so. A 777 can land on 3500 feet. It can land on non-runway surfaces – especially if the goal is just a survivable landing rather than one that lets you fly the aircraft again.

  47. Jim–Yes, that’s a conspiracy theory. I would expect many more from many news outlets until someone either gives up or they find the plane. The MSM is not immune from such ideation and I’d bet it helps the ratings.
    (Used a magnifying glass on the grainy Apollo photos, watched Mythbusters and read a bunch of websites. I’m still thinking I’ll buy the official story that we did land on the moon. Of course, I was only 12, but I cut out all the newspaper articles and kept them. It seems legit.)

  48. John,

    Flight 93 was a 757, not a 777. The 777 has more than double the mass and more than half again the wingspan of the 757.

    “Not so. A 777 can land on 3500 feet.”

    According to http://www.aircraftcompare.com/helicopter-airplane/Boeing-777-200ER/20 the minimum landing distance of the 777 is over 5000 feet.

    Sure, it can land on non-runway surfaces, but not just any surface will do. Landing a plane that size on sand, loose gravel or soil isn’t going to work well. You need a surface that is both hard enough to take the plane’s weight on landing and large and flat enough.

    Most of that part of the world is fairly rugged terrain. You aren’t going to find someplace that is big enough and flat enough and solid enough to land an aircraft size just anywhere, especially when it also needs to be remote enough to do so in secret.

    If you want to land an aircraft that size in secret, it seems to me that Antarctica would be the best choice.

  49. @MattS… Double the mass means a slightly larger hole. As for wing span, the wing span of flight 93 didn’t affect the size of the hole (I don’t know why). Certainly in near vertical flight, the wings can go into a forest without disrupting much at all.

    Per 777 pilots on PPRune, it can land in 3500 feet. Speaking as a pilot, I understand what you can and can’t land on, and what the issues are when landing on substandard surfaces. What you would land on to keep the aircraft flight worthy is a lot different from what you could put it down on and likely walk away from.

    As a trained SAR participant (and also former P-3 crewman), I know how easy it is to miss surprisingly large things, and also the incredible number of strange things that you see on a search that make de-cluttering your finds so difficult, and cause search fatigue quickly. This is far more of a problem over land than over sea. Remote sea areas, in good weather, are the easiest to search – they’re pretty flat, and have few false targets. I have over 1000 hours of looking at the sea from the forward port window of a P-3, btw.

    I think the most likely outcome is the 777 either crashed or ditched in the S. Indian Ocean. If it crashed, there will very likely be debris found – eventually (maybe something washes ashore in a few months). If it was a successful ditching (which is not easy), it could have sunk intact to the bottom, leaving no debris.

    I believe it is likely in the SIO because serious SAR people (US & Australian governments) are allocating substantial resources to that area. I also think it likely because of the satellite ping data – some of which the SAR folks have but we do not. It is not unlikely that searchers have a bit more sensor data we don’t know – perhaps new radar primary returns from other countries, or Aussie OTH data which the Aussies want to keep very close hold.

    But… the idea that it could not have landed on land and that there are only a small number of possible places is not well founded. That it augered into a jungle remains a possibility if the satellite “ping” data is incorrect, or if it went in along the 40 degree arc.

  50. John,

    “But… the idea that it could not have landed on land and that there are only a small number of possible places is not well founded. That it augered into a jungle remains a possibility if the satellite “ping” data is incorrect, or if it went in along the 40 degree arc.”

    The pilots deliberately broke contact and went off course and off radar.

    That doesn’t make sense to me if the intent is pilot suicide or simply killing the passengers. For this reason I am assuming that they intended to land the plane intact somewhere. While there might be many places you could land a 777, adding in the need to do so undetected narrows the possibilities considerably.

    Though one other thought has crossed my mind. The story coming from the Malaysian authorities has changed repeatedly and in significant ways. How sure are we that the plane actually took off?

  51. Rats. Jim, now it seems CNN actually was reading tweets, etc, with viewers’ theories and black hole and bermuda triangle were thrown out there. Of course, the reporter said it was so nice everyone was sharing their ideas. (She did seem to be saying there was no evidence for these ideas.)

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