All of My Faults Are Stress Related

I’m brainstorming for my summer class, and I’m thinking about creating an exercise or assignment in which students try to figure out whether a web site (or blog post, or whatever) is reliable. (I’m going to be teaching in a computer classroom, so I’ve got a choice of having students do a homework assignment or googling during class time. I don’t need to decide that quite yet.)

I’m thinking of splitting the class into several groups and having them google some common pseudoscience/conspiracy theories, and have them look for any kind of hint that the information isn’t reliable. I want to avoid things that they might already have strong opinions about, so I want to avoid topics like evolution, global warming, vaccination/autism, and so forth. More Grumbine Science has some good suggestions* in the 20 links game, but I’m trying to think of others.

Ideas I’ve got so far:

  • Flat Earth
  • Hollow Earth
  • Chemtrails
  • Elvis is alive

Other ideas? These are mostly non-science majors, so anything that requires knowing much about what geologists really think about the Earth probably would miss the point.

*More Grumbine Science also gives lots of hints about ways to evaluate sources, but I think I’m going to try to get the students to come up with their own ways. There’s a good chance that they’ll teach me something, too.

Comments

  1. #1 Jude
    April 16, 2009

    While it may not be *that* common, my favorite Colorado-related conspiracy theory is the one about the lizard people who live under DIA and steal children, or any of the other conspiracy theories associated with DIA. I first heard about the lizard people from a cousin in Alaska who wanted me to check out the DIA artwork for signs of where the lizard people might keep the children they steal. I blogged about it once on a now-defunct blog and had at least 12 comments from people who claimed to have seen the tunnels that the lizard people used. When I invited them to show me, no one took me up on the offer. Meanwhile, though, librarians collect these, you know–hoax websites. For example: http://www.avdistrict.org/library/eval.html
    My favorite is the DHMO site at http://www.dhmo.org/ In my high school class this semester, I avoided the hoax sites and demonstrated simple Google searches for Hitler and Clovis people. The latter search brings up a Crystalinks site. We examined the root website. I tracked down a phrase from her site, and that quote was apparently from an old USGS site–no credit given, no copyright infringed, but still not cited. The Hitler search made it easy to show bias; Crystalinks demonstrates the concept of authority (and also provides a good object lesson in how Google ranks sites and why Wikipedia usually ends up as the first search option). Can you tell I’m a librarian?

  2. #2 Jim Repka
    April 17, 2009

    Moon landing hoax…

    Face/City on Mars…

    Paul is dead (If Ringo dies next, that will become a very ironic rumor)…

    Earth has a twin orbiting at L3…

    Math is hard…

  3. #3 IBY
    April 17, 2009

    Eggs stand only in equinoxes

    “dark side” of the moon

    science sucks ^_^

    perpetual motion machines

    this is from math, but: squaring the circle

    dust is mostly from flaked skin

    eight second rule

    bottled water is better than tap water

    E=mc^3 (and other crank physics)

    2012 apocalypse

    planet x destroy the world theory

    UFO=alien

    etc etc etc

  4. #4 humorix
    April 17, 2009

    The success of the computer is that he can be driven to his rhythm. They take time tone to read, relire, understand, note. Surtout on channel-flicks. They change more quickly site on Internet than chains on television. Because Internet is not always so direct as on the television.

    Le succès de l’ordinateur est qu’il peut être conduit à son rythme. On prend le temps de lire, relire, comprendre, noter. Surtout on zappe. On change plus vite de site sur internet que de chaînes à la télévision. Parce que internet n’est pas toujours autant en direct comme à la télé.

  5. #5 volcanista
    April 17, 2009

    Technically, that the moon doesn’t exist, but that site is not actually serious (might fool them, though). Unified field theory, aliens building or giving us instructions to build the pyramids. Atlantis-related theories.

    There are also the shapechanging lizard people that kill and replace our world leaders, and that are protected by the Illuminati. I read about it in Paranoia magazine!

  6. #6 Callan Bentley
    April 17, 2009

    What about the “expanding Earth” idea (subduction denialism)?
    Or (low-hanging fruit): Hallettestoneion Sea Zoria Dragons … http://hszoria.com/

  7. #7 Robert Grumbine
    April 17, 2009

    You might trawl through Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, or maybe make that one of the books for the class to read. It’s available from Dover, so not very expensive.

    For more crackpottery …

  8. Velikovsky (and his modern day descendants, the ‘Saturnists’)
  9. The Bermuda Triangle
  10. Cyrus Teed’s hollow earth (we live on the inside of a hollow earth — unlike almost any, the math works for this)
  11. The Jupiter Effect (Gribben, late 1970s)
  12. 5/5/2000 (or its current incarnation 12/21/12)
  13. Astrology (specifically, the ‘void of course’ moon — an experiment I had cooperation from an astrologer for, results are on the web as PZ Myers has republished it a couple of times)
  14. The 300 mpg carburetor
  15. Archimedes Plutonium (usenet legend and more readable than most)
  16. Ed Conrad and his Carboniferous human bones
  17. Biorhythms
  18. Pyramid power
  19. Free energy (machine)

    Probably hard to pull off, but fad diets, fad ‘supplements’, fad ‘herbal remedies’, etc.

    While I realize you want to stay away from climate, and there are good reasons for it, I’ll still suggest the recent George Will column (Feb 15) and the responses to it (including from the WMO, also in the Post). It’s a concise little case study, and will tie in well with how to deal with media reports.

    As you notice, I’m leaning on things from the 1970s. That should help take away the sting for your students, as not many people still hang on to them. Plus, you can pull some more from your memory of that era.

    Thanks for the nice mention here. For your readers, I’ll note that the two most relevant tags at my site are ‘weeding sources’ (obviously) and ‘doing science’. While the latter overlaps, as doing science requires a fair amount of analysis of source quality, a number are about different matters of fun.

  • #8 Kim
    April 17, 2009

    Water circling down the drain one way north of the equator, going the other way south of the equator.

  • #9 Sharon
    April 17, 2009

    Try skepdic.com for a ton of screwball ideas and well researched explanations.

  • #10 Tuff Cookie
    April 17, 2009

    Dowsing, homeopathy, maybe that whole healing crystals thing (apparently a favorite topic at gem and Mineral Shows). Anything about Atlantis and the Nazca lines is good too.

    If you’re looking for a book to use, I’d recommend “Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science” by Martin Gardner. It’s a bit older, but it talks about lots of the above suggestions in detail. It was reading for a seminar I took on pseudoscience, and I really enjoyed it.

  • #11 Courtney
    April 17, 2009

    I do a critical thinking course every now and then. Here are some useful websites about evaluating sources, which is key in getting them to understand about pseudoscience/conspiracy theories. Many of them don’t understand that authors have biases!

    http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/research/r_evalsource5.html
    http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/instruct/guides/evaluation.html
    http://www.wikihow.com/Evaluate-the-Credibility-of-a-Source
    http://library.duke.edu/services/instruction/libraryguide/evalwebpages.html

  • #12 Joshua Zelinsky
    April 17, 2009

    My list would overlap a lot with many already given so I’ll only add one:

    Crowd demons.

  • #13 Shirley
    April 17, 2009

    There is a comic book writer named Neal Adams who has made a whole (expensive) series of DVDs who claims scientists are covering up a big secret: that the earth is actually expanding in diameter or something. He has no scientific training, which he claims gives him an advantage over those trained as scientists because he isn’t brainwashed like we are. He has all kinds of bizarre ideas about plate tectonics and erosion and whatnot and has animations showing how the earth will really change as it grows evermore large. He also uses freebies like the William Tell for it… my only qualms about sharing this loopy guy’s claims is that bringing it up with your students may bring more attention on this guy!

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

  • #14 BAllanJ
    April 17, 2009

    String Theory :)

  • #15 GE Wilker
    April 17, 2009

    The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Not a conspiracy theory as such, but it’s a lovely site. They have some pictures of our cephalopodic friend. (http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/)

  • #16 jared
    April 17, 2009

    Does anyone promote earthquake prediction online?

  • #17 tbell
    April 17, 2009

    That the modern American school system post-Dewey, was designed to create a docile worker population, rather than encourage critical thinking and citizens who are willing to challenge authority.

  • #18 chris y
    April 17, 2009

    Dinosaurs co-existing with humans?

  • #19 Bill
    April 17, 2009

    These are two geocentric earth web sites. They use the Biblical text that states that the earth is fixed, hence it must be the center of the universe. These sites assert that there is a conspiracy to avoid the Truth.

    http://www.fixedearth.com/

    http://www.staticearth.net/index.html

  • #20 Kim Johnson
    April 17, 2009

    We had a ball with this for a while. (http://www.nmsr.org/Archive.html) Caught a few big fish, too.

    See http://www.nmsr.org/april_fool.html for the complete explanation.

  • #21 M
    April 17, 2009

    Applied kinesiology.
    Quantum homeopathy.

  • #22 Mishal
    April 17, 2009

    This, is the craziest conspiracy theory ever.

    The whole thing is here: http://www.cryptomundo.com/cryptozoo-news/racism-09/

    The following email arrived yesterday. It was horrible to read, as it was sent in all seriousness, with an invitation to receive other supporting “documents.” The basic nature of the communication shows an underside of our culture that many of us hoped was long gone.

    The film that Roger Patterson made in 1967 in California of Bigfoot is real. Here is what Bigfoot is. Long before Jesus was born there were thousands of slaves who ran off around the world and started their own countries. When they left there was a large group of men and boys who took off and ended up in Africa. When they got to Africa some of these men and boys caught female Orangutans and took them over to South America and had sex with them and created the American Indian.

    The men and boys who stayed in Africa caught female Gorillas and had sex with them and created the Black man. When scientists found the bones they thought we evolved from a female Chimpanzee. But it wasn’t a natural evolution it was a man made evolution. That’s where Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, Orangutan man and the Skunk Ape comes from. They are half man and half Gorilla and half man and half Orangutan. They use to call the American Indian the red man. The Orangutan has redish or orange hair. When those men bred out the hair the Indian’s skin remained red. The Gorilla has black hair and skin.

    When those men bred out the hair the Black man’s skin remained black. They are not prehistoric creatures from millions of years ago but they are man made creatures from several thousand years ago. The creature that Roger Patterson filmed in 1967 was half man and half Gorilla. There is no such thing as a natural evolution.

    A good dressing down of the email follows, but still… some people are something else…

  • #23 HP
    April 17, 2009

    Black-Eyed Kids, aka BEKs.

    Googling BEKs is endlessly entertaining. I’ve been following them off and on since the obvious hoax Usenet post about 12 years ago, which has since triggered endless speculation and requests for personal stories from credulists, stories which are then duly supplied by confabulists and FOAFs, feeding the cycle.

    It’s very marginal, fringe-paranormal stuff — it’s a bit like the MIB stuff was in the 1950s before it took off as a pop-culture phenomenon.

  • #24 thingsbreak
    April 17, 2009

    How about the whole “aliens built [insert pre-Columbian site here]“, e.g. Machu Picchu.

  • #25 Lab Lemming
    April 18, 2009

    As far as bad geology is concerned, the expanding Earth and abiotic oil hypotheses both have significant internet support. They might be good places to start.

  • #26 Michael
    April 18, 2009

    One of the most well-developed and plausible ones is Oxfordianism, which says that Edward de Vere wrote all of the plays traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare. It’s viewed as an outlier opinion in literary academia, but some powerful people believe it, including Supreme Court Justice Stevens.

    Wiki

  • #27 Michael
    April 18, 2009

    One of the most well-developed and even plausible ones is Oxfordianism, which holds that Edward de Vere wrote the plays traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare. It’s viewed as an outlier opinion in literary academia, but some powerful people believe it, including Supreme Court Justice Stevens.

  • #28 Diggitt
    April 19, 2009

    Useful to remember that before DNA, the idea — the VERY IDEA — that Thomas Jefferson might have fathered his slave’s children was totally dismissed. There are still some diehards out there, but most of Jefferson’s own long-acknowledged descendants accept the reality of it now.

    Mitochondrial DNA testing of bones found in a swamp proved the truth or untruth of stories that had circulated nearly a century about the fate of the Russian royals.

    Legends had circulated over a thousand years about the history of the Khazars, a tribe in the Caucasus. Were they Jews or not? DNA tells a very interesting story, leading to the revision (or addition of additional chapters) to books like Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe.

    There’s the ongoing hoohah about the descendants of Jesus. Are they the Sinclairs/St.Clairs or not? What’s the story of Roslin Chapel? The whole DaVinci code thing.

    For other Bible scholars, the existence of the “cohen” Y chromosome seems to support stories that have circulated thousands of years.

  • #29 JMS
    April 20, 2009

    The moon landing, JFK and Diana’s death.

  • #30 Courtney
    April 20, 2009

    I had to share this with you – a real reponse to a homework assignment about air pollution:
    “What evidence exists to prove that Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant? Carbon Dioxide is no more associated with “global warming” (hoax) than is water vapor.”

    To which I said, ” I understand that you may not agree with the textbook. However, you are to use the textbook as the reference for your assignments. Grades will be issued
    based on your ability to read, understand, and write about the information in the textbook.”

    Got a better suggestion?

  • #31 opony szczecin
    April 26, 2009

    “russian demokracy”

  • #32 Aire
    May 5, 2009

    Pseudoscience AND conspiracy theories, all in one:
    Ancient astronauts

  • #33 Jose
    May 7, 2009

    I’d steer clear Quantum Homeopathy (Lynne Mctaggart and other gurus) as a previous commentator suggested as those are pretty transparently marketing pitches.

    However related to that and more specificaly a scientific conspiracy theory I’d nominate the MMR Vaccination scare. There are numerous sources on both sides and it’s not as obviously ludicrous as the others that have been suggested. You don’t have to know much about science to point out the flaws in the Hollow Earth argument but the MMR Scare and it’s resulting conspiracy theories are much more subtle.

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