It is time for another entry in the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.
A really annoying aspect of combating pseudoscientific nonsense on the Internet is that within a relatively short time period, a skeptic soon starts to know more about a specific denialist claim than the denialists themselves. This is because the denialist, of course, just knows what he or she knows, but the skeptic is exposed to many denialists that put forward different patches of the same conspiracy theory or claim in question. Since there is no independent way to support pseudoscientific nonsense (no repair mechanism), it mutates as it is spread around the Internet. Together with the fact that very few new arguments are used by denialists (since they often just recycle old claims), this means that, sometimes, the crank or quack makes a claim that is just incoherent and the skeptic is forced to figure out which precise claim the denialist was referring to. Sometimes, this is just a matter of confusing some minor detail, but in other cases there is so much disconnect between the original pseudoscientific argument and the way it is delivered by a crank on the Internet. Most of the time, it is somewhere in between.
This was the case for a reader comment left by someone calling themselves Jennie. It was left on a Facebook post about the deceptive tactics used by alleged psychics, but it had to do with something completely different, namely chemtrails and geoengineering:
I like how you make it very difficult to comment on your lies because the last thing you want is the truth to come out it’s a known fact about Chemtrails and the poison in those aerosols they’re spraying as a matter of fact it’s a patent number HR 2977 stop lying to the public you are in support of murder that’s what you’re doing with your lies
The part about “difficult to comment” probably refers to the fact that Debunking Denialism closes comments automatically on posts that are older than 200 days. This is because this website use to receive a deluge of comment spam about everything from voice over IP software and expensive watches to Viagra and spell casting for HIV. At one point, there were more spam comments in total than total views. Another factor was the fact that the spam filter is a bit broke because of targeted assault by Holocaust deniers and anti-psychiatry proponents. As a result, the spam filter moderately often fail to catch real spam and puts some legitimate comments in the spam queue. After changing the comment setting, it has stabilized at about 540 000 spam comments caught in total and I have less trouble with legitimate comments being caught by the spam filter and spam comments not placed in spam. But it still happens, unfortunately, so there is often a delay from posting a comment to getting it published, especially if it is the first comment posted by that IP. This is also described on the comment guidelines page.
It is common for chemtrails believers to claim that people are being poisoned by aerosols sprayed by airplanes. In reality, there are several large problems with such a view. Aerosol spraying on such a large scale would cause considerable temperature drops as aerosols reflect back a lot of income solar radiation back into space from where it came from. But we do not currently observe such a downward trend in global average temperatures. Quite the opposite, since there is a current warming trend and several years in the early part of the 21st century have been very warm. The story, according to NASA, is often a bit more complicated than that, but the basic idea holds. If airplanes have been making people very, very sick with the help of chemtrails for over 100 years, you would expect a declining population size. To put it simply, poisons decrease ability to sustain life and thus the production of viable offspring. For example, diseases can sometimes make populations of host organisms to crash, from potato blight to Yersinia plague among rodents.
The supposed “patent number HR 2977” does not exist. HR 2977 refers to the Space Preservation Act of 2001, which sought to “preserve the cooperative, peaceful uses of space for the benefit of all humankind by permanently prohibiting the basing of weapons in space by the United States” as well as to require the U. S. President to “take action to adopt and implement a world treaty banning space-based weapons.” Thus, this has nothing to do with alleged poisonous chemtrails or geoengineering. But wait! The Act actually does mention chemtrails. Why? It lists “chemtrails” as “exotic weapons systems”, together with space-based “information weapons”, “plasma, electromagnetic, sonic or ultrasonic weapons”, “laser weapons systems”, “extraterrestrial weapons” and even “tectonic weapons”. Thus, this Act does not give support to the claim that poisonous chemtrails exists, merely using it in a list of conceivable exotic weapons, which basically consists of sci-fi weapons that do not currently exist. More information about this Act can be found here.
Debunking Denialism has a previous piece about the chemtrails conspiracy theory. The nuclear chemist J. Marvin Herndon got one of his papers retracted from International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, where he promoted the notion of chemtrails. More information about this retraction can be found here.