Conspiracy trails …



I get a fair amount of emails from people who believe in the ‘chemtrails’ conspiracy theory. Typically, these are people deep into conspiracy theories who also believe that the CIA was responsible for crashing planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11, think the CIA was behind the JFK assassination, and I bet a significant fraction of them think that we never really landed on the moon.  The best predictor of believing in ‘conspiracy trails’ is believing in other conspiracy theories.

Many of these people imagine that I am somehow commanding a fleet of airplanes in my spare time or that I am in some other way masterminding some secret nefarious government conspiracy to poison them or change their climate.

I feel sorry for these people because they have no real way of finding out the truth for themselves, they trust people who believe false things, and they (and we) cannot rely on our government to tell us the truth.

Very few of our beliefs are based on first-hand observation. We hold most of our beliefs because people we trust told us something that was consistent with our prior beliefs. If we trust the wrong people, we can end up with false beliefs.

One of the key facts that conspiracy-trail-believers miss is that scientists, if they could prove that such an atmospheric spraying program exists, would get a very high profile publication out of it in a major journal, and it would be very helpful to their careers. If there were activities going on at the scale suggested by the true believers, it would be obvious to atmospheric scientists. The idea that you can keep every competent atmospheric scientist mum about ‘conspiracy trails’ strains credulity.

Human psychology works in ways that are not entirely consistent with formal deductive logic. For example, if you believe that God creates beautiful flowers, every time you see a beautiful flower, you take that as evidence in support of the existence of God. Similarly, if you believe that contrails are produced by a secret nefarious government plot against humanity, every time you see a contrail, you take this as evidence for a secret nefarious government plot against humanity. The belief is self-reinforcing.

Here is a typical email that I have written in response to people who accuse me of masterminding such plots. I am sure it would be wiser not to respond to these people. But some conspiracy-trail believers are not deep into conspiracy theories themselves but merely trust someone who is deep into conspiracy theories. These are the people I am trying to reach.

Dear ________ ,

You have have apparently been misinformed by trash you read on the internet.  It would be good if you would find out the truth before making insulting and offensive accusations.

You are looking at ordinary contrails and letting yourself succumb to paranoid conspiracy theories.  Are there other conspiracy theories that you believe in? It is said that the best predictor of believing in a conspiracy theory is already believing another conspiracy theory.  Who do you think killed JFK? Who masterminded 9/11?

Please do not be one of these people with no scientific literacy and who believes stupid stuff they read on the internet.

Are all of these contrails experts wrong about contrails?  Why aren’t real scientists who study contrails seeing anything unusual?

Why do people studying atmospheric deposition of aluminum not say anything about Chemtrails?  Could it be that there are no Chemtrails that could cause increases in atmospheric deposition?

What some people think of as Chemtrails are just ordinary contrails. Check out this video, for example:  Or this web site:

Barium and other chemicals are commonly released into the environment. For example, take a look at this:

Anthropogenic sources of barium are primarily indus- trial. Emissions may result from mining, refining, or processing of barium minerals and manufacture of barium products. Barium is also discharged in waste water from metallurgical and industrial processes. Deposition on soil may result from man’s activities, including the disposal of fly ash and primary and secondary sludge in landfill. It was estimated that in 1976, mining and processing of barite ore in the USA released approximately 3200 tonnes of particulates into the air, and fugitive dusts from the use of barite in oil drilling and oil-related industries accounted for approximately 100 tonnes of particulates. In 1972, the barium chemical industry in the USA released an estimated 1200 tonnes of particulates into the atmosphere.

So, there are something like 4000 tons of barium-containing compounds released into the air over the US each year by industry. You don’t need to invoke Chemtrails to explain barium deposition.

Do you really think Dick Cheney cared enough about climate change to run a secret program to try to protect us from climate damage?

Our government asserts the right to kill Americans secretly without judicial review, so I am under no illusions that our government is willing to do terrible things in secret. Furthermore, our government has lied to us about kidnapping and torturing people and many other things. So, I understand when people think the government is doing terrible things again and lying to us about it. That is often a reasonable first guess at an explanation.

Unfortunately, in this case I think this reasonable first guess is wrong. There is no good evidence that our government is running a secret spraying program and lying to us about it.



PS. To learn more about me and my views, you can check these out:

SF Chronicle:


NPR All Things Considered:  (broadcast 22 April but web page went up on 5 April)

I tell the truth about geoengineering. Have a look at this: