Dr Michael Shermer is founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine Skeptic. He’s written several books on science and skepticism and his latest work is an audio-only 12-part course, for Audible and The Great Courses, called Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories: What We Should and Shouldn’t Believe—and Why. We cover the full spectrum of conspiracies, their history and context, their social and psychological causes and their very real effects. We discuss real and false conspiracies, and how to tell the difference. We then finish up with UFOs, the Intellectual Dark Web, and the Skeptical Movement.

Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories can be found on Audible or via Amazon.

UFO Jesus is a popular advocate of UFO “disclosure”, the belief that the US Government is close to revealing that it knows that some UFOs actually are the result of alien visitors. We talk about this and our different interpretation of the evidence used to support this case. In particular, we focus on the 2004 case of the USS Nimitz, where, over several days, unexplained sightings and radar returns culminated in two fighter planes observing what one pilot, Commander David Fravor, described as a “white Tic-Tac shaped craft” performing impossible maneuvers. A later video was also taken, which I think shows a distant plane, and UFO fans think is this Tic-Tac. There are rumors of a higher-resolution longer video that shows more.

UFO Jesus closes with six prophecies, and I’m a bit skeptical. But he gives a nice short timeframe of six years, so we’ll see.

Jason Bermas is a producer, writer, and YouTuber, best known for conspiracy documentaries such as Loose Change, Fabled Enemies, Shade, and Invisible Empire. Loose Change was a seminal documentary for the 9/11 “Truth” movement, and I’ve often heard people cite it as a big part of why they got interested in the various 9/11 conspiracy theories.

We talk about the topics in his films: 9/11, geopolitics and corruption, chemtrails, But we also talk quite a bit about UFOs, video games, and quantum computing.

I deeply disagree with a lot of Jason’s positions, particularly on 9/11 and his New World Order theories (and chemtrails, of course) but people can always find common ground. We both enjoyed playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, we find quantum physics fascinating, and we both agree there’s lots of harmful corruption in the world. By having a civil discussion founded on that common ground we were able to advance our mutual understanding, and hopefully move everyone a bit closer to reality.

Nick Pope is a journalist and media commentator who writes and talks a lot about the UFO phenomenon. He is perhaps best known for a role he undertook for the British Government from 1991 to 1994 which involved investigating reports of UFO sightings. We talk about his recent trip to view the storming of Area 51, his history of investigating UFO sighting, the current state of UFOlogy research and culture, and interaction with people on the internet

 

 

Ian goes by the name TheoryQED on Metabunk and his YouTube Channel, where he posts about UFOs. Unlike me, and definitely unlike my last guest (Seth Shostak), Ian thinks there’s something highly significant to the UFO phenomenon, maybe even alien visitors. Like most Americans, he also suspects the government is not telling us everything it knows.

Some of our disagreements have been about three videos that have been in the news recently: “Go Fast”, “Gimbal,” and “Flir1”. The latter is particularly interesting as there are a large number of eyewitnesses from the Nimitz Carrier strike group who report a variety of odd events and sightings surrounding that videos  – like Commander Fravor’s “Tic-Tac” incident.

We also have a nice chat about UFOs in general and the possibility (or probability) of visiting aliens.

Seth Shostak is the Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute and former Director of Center for SETI Research. A popular science communicator, Seth has hosted SETI’s weekly radio show (and now podcast) Big Picture Science since 2002. We discuss the work of SETI, and some of the more interesting developments. We also talk about the UFO “Disclosure” conspiracy theory, which suggests the US government is covering up evidence of extraterrestrial encounters and is (perhaps) on the verge of disclosing this information. We also discuss the related cultural phenomenon,  Storm Area 51.

  • SETI Institute: https://www.seti.org/
  • Big Picture Science: http://radio.seti.org/

Donald Friedman, P.E., F.ASCE, is a professional engineer with more than 25 years of experience in the investigation, analysis, and restoration of landmark buildings. He has taught engineering  at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Columbia University; he has spoken at numerous conferences including the fourth and fifth ASCE Forensics Conference; he is the author of After 9-11: An Engineer’s Work at the World Trade Center, based on his work at the World Trade Center site, starting September 12, 2001.

We talked about his experience at the 9/11 WTC site, and how what he saw relates to the various conspiracies regarding the collapses of the World Trade Center Buildings. We specifically discuss the recent University of Alaska study that Professor Leroy Hulsey carried out for Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.  We close out with a discussion of how New York structural engineers view the 9/11 controlled demolition conspiracy theories.

JM Talboo runs the web site http://911debunkers.blogspot.com subtitled “Debunking the Debunkers of the 9/11 Truth Movement”. His focus is on debunking people like me, i.e. people who debunk 9/11 conspiracy theories. But he also debunks 9/11 Truthers when he sees them make mistakes, and recently added another subtitle to his blog: “Refuting the Hollow Arguments of the So-called 9/11 Debunkers & Truthers”

We talk about how he got into 9/11 Truth and blogging, how his beliefs have changed over time, and wander into the weeds of a variety of 9/11 related topics. We also venture further into the conspiracysphere, touching on JFK, Chemtrails, False Flags, and other topics.

JM’s Source list: https://911debunkers.blogspot.com/2019/09/mick-west-discusses-911-and.html

Mike Rothschild is a writer who is an expert on a variety of conspiracy theories, in particular QAnon. We discuss the drawn-out decline of the QAnon theory, prosperity scams, and the theories around the death of the Jeffery Epstein. We also discuss Mikes upcoming book,  The World’s Worst Conspiracies.

“Paradigm Shift” is the name used by a poster on Metabunk. Paradigm Shift had made many posts about 9/11, and the need, as he sees it, for a new investigation to look into the possibility of explosives being used to bring down the twin towers. Online discussions can be slow-moving and fractious, so I asked him to come on the podcast for a more detailed and direct conversation about what we believe, and why we believe it.

Paradigm Shift is a student in his mid-20s. The drum graphic is what he uses as an Avatar on Metabunk.

 

Willie was one of the first people that I interviewed for my book Escaping The Rabbit Hole.  He’s a former believer in theories from 9/11 being an “inside job”, to chemtrails.  His story forms the preface to ETRH, and sets the tone for the whole book. No matter how deep you are down the rabbit hole, or how long you’ve been down there, there’s always the possibility of escape.

We had this follow-up chat 2-years to the day after the first one and discuss his story, lesson learned, and what has changed since then.

Adam Taylor was very active in the 9/11 truth movement for ten years from 2007 to 2017.  He’s still very much in favor of a new investigation and thinks there are many unanswered questions about the events of 9/11. But he no longer spends time advocating, and instead is focusing on living a normal life. We talk about how he got into 9/11 “truth” activism, why he eventually retired from the movement, the role of debunkers, and his thoughts on the “truth” movement as a whole

Brad is an electrical engineer and an expert in mathematics. He also likes to consider that an idea might be true before rejecting it, no matter how extreme. This led him very briefly down the rabbit hole of checking to see if the earth was actually round like a ball, or might it possibly be flat. His strong grounding in mathematics very quickly put an end to that – but what about the people who don’t really understand the math? Is there hope for “flat earthers” who don’t really understand geometry?

Things mentioned in the podcast

Rory has an extensive series of videos on YouTube debunking Flat Earth, focusing on simple ways of demonstrating that there’s a curve. But he’s also got a very interesting life story as a traveler, both around the world and in a spiritual sense. This exploration has eventually given him a great perspective on why people believe in things when the evidence is against them, but at times led him to entertain a number of conspiracy theories and other esoteric beliefs. He’s still a little esoteric, but as he’s got older he’s become a bit more grounded. We talk about his journey from “bliss ninny” to “pain-in-the ass debunker”

David Keith is Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University. He is also executive chairman of Carbon Engineering.  Because he’s a well-known expert in the largely theoretical field of geoengineering (deliberately modifying the Earth’s climate) he has become an often demonized target for conspiracy theorists who think that the climate is actually being secretly modified using “chemtrails.”

We discuss the actual state of Geoengineering research (just starting to do very small scale tests), the plausibility of doing it secretly (almost none), and Professor Keith’s experiences with the chemtrail theorists over the last decade.

 

Links:

Paul is a former promoter of the Planet X conspiracy theory, which is also known as the Nibiru cataclysm. Planet X (or Nibiru) is a supposed rogue planet that some people claim they can observe near the sun. Supposedly the existence of this planet is being covered up by the government because it’s about to cause the end of the world. There’s a wide variety of versions of this theory.

Paul discovered the Planet X theory back in 2013 and became very interested in it. He started posting lots of YouTube videos promoting the theory and warning of the impending apocalypse. He teamed up with two other people, and they created lots of YouTube content as a team. For a long time he simply ignored all attempts by “debunkers” to explain things to him, but eventually he recognized that the weight of the evidence was against him. This realization came about in large part due to the efforts of one debunker who posts on YouTube and Facebook as “Dazza the Cameraman.” Dazza would patiently and politely explain things to Paul.

Paul eventually lost his belief in Planet X and split with his YouTube partners, who immediately branded him a traitor, all of which was very difficult for him. He’s now moving on with his life and leaving conspiracy theories behind, but he contacted me because he wanted his story to be told.

“Paul” is not his real name, his voice is altered, and he does not appear in the YouTube version. While anonymity is difficult to keep on the internet, Paul did not want any more footage of himself out there that could be used directly against him, so he’s appearing here relatively incognito.

Dazza The Cameraman’s sites have lots of great debunking of Planet X, and Flat Earth:

Jim Lee used to be a fairly hardcore conspiracy theorist, deep into things like Chemtrails and doomsday comets. Now he’s less deep down the rabbit hole, but has managed to create one of his own. He’s convinced there’s something going on involving chemicals in the air or modifying contrails. Not exactly chemtrails, but still something nefarious. He spends a lot of time researching what it might be.  He’s also concerned about the effects of potential future geoengineering, pollution, and nuclear leaks, and his large website Climate Viewer, is where he educates people on those issues, and other things he finds important.

Unfortunately a lot of people in the chemtrail community think of him as a supporter of the conventional chemtrail conspiracy theory, even though he thinks that’s implausible, and prefers his own version. He still uses the language of “chemtrails”, even though he will qualify it later in the article. I think he’s wrong about a secret geoengineering plot, but even if he was not, I think he’s not helping with pandering to the hardcore chemtrail folk.

We discuss all those things.

Jim’s web site: https://climateviewer.com/

 

Jen Senko is the director of the documentary film The Brainwashing of my Dad, released in 2016. The film tells the story of how her father had a drastic change in personality after slowly getting sucked into a rabbit hole of conservative talk radio. This was very interesting to me, not simply for the whole rabbit-hole aspect, but also because partisan media often traffics in conspiracy theories (like Obama being a Muslim.) Jen does a great job of examining the history of right wing media, going back to Goldwater, Nixon, and Roger Ailes.

While her perspective might seem too left-wing for many people, I encourage you to give it a go. It features several people who tell their own stories – some about their friends and relatives, and some who were sucked in themselves, and eventually escaped.

The last third of the documentary covers the tactics of disinformation used by partisan media, which should be of interest regardless of your politics.

The Brainwashing of my Dad is available on most major streaming services and on DVD.  http://www.thebrainwashingofmydad.com/

 

Joe is someone I’ve known online for nearly ten years, back when he was a believer in the chemtrails conspiracy theory. Over a few years, I managed to talk him out of that one. He’s dabbled in a few other conspiracy theories since then, like JFK, 9/11, and Birtherism (Obama being supposedly born in Kenya), but didn’t really think they had much to them.

Joe is politically right wing, a Tea Party Republican who expressed some support for the Oregon militia standoff of 2016, and is very critical of what he sees as left-wing media bias regarding social issues like race and immigration. The conspiracy he currently thinks is real is that leftists and globalists like George Soros, combined with a “Deep State”, are attempting to use those social issues to manipulate society towards open borders and a one world government.   This is not a fringe view, and variations of this belief are actually shared by a significant number of people.

Joe joking referred to himself as a “deplorable”, a term used by Hillary Clinton to refer to Trump supporters, and then adopted by those supporters as a badge of their perceived oppression by the liberal establishment. To a liberal like myself, Joe’s positions do seem rather disappointing and I disagree with most of his political and social beliefs. But, just like with the more extreme or eccentric conspiracy theorists, I think it’s important to keep the channels of communication open.

 

I met Sasha at the Flat Earth conference a couple of weeks ago. During the debate, she asked an interesting question about the moment that made us commit to the Earth being flat (or, in my case, a globe). Afterwards, she approached me and asked a few more questions, and we ended up talking for quite a while. I found her fascinating, as she was a very nice, normal-seeming, intelligent person. She’s certainly not stupid, and does not seem to be crazy, and yet she thinks there’s a good chance that the Earth actually is Flat. I tried explaining a few things to her, particularly the fact that distant mountains seem to be hidden behind the horizon just like the Globe model predicts. She didn’t think this was good evidence though, as there seemed to her to exist other possible explanations, like “perspective” hiding the bottom of the mountain. So was frustrated and intrigued.  I invited here on my Podcast, and we have a fascinating conversation, where I again fail to get my explanation across, and she quite eloquently speaks about the need for both questioning of assumptions, and communication between diverse groups.

In this episode, I report back from my trip to the “Exit the Matrix” Flat Earth Expo in Las Vegas, where I gave a presentation, had a debate, and talked to a lot of Flat Earth believers.

It was an experience that was unusual, revealing, and entertaining.   The flat Earth folk were, on the whole, very nice and fun to talk to. I came away with the sense that their lack of understanding was very genuine, that they were in many case not trolling. I also found that communication was possible. Of course, they are very resistant, and individuals vary, but people were not automatically rejecting what I said. I didn’t convert anyone that I know of, but I think I at least made them think about a few things. I will follow up with the people I met, and hope to have some on future podcasts.

At 3:30 I mention that “IPS” uses the name “Tim Ozman” the same (phonetically) as the person I interviewed last week (“Tim Osman”). This is not the same person, just the same name (ironic use of the name of a CIA agent who supposedly pretended to be Osama bin Laden).

  • Exit the Matrix Expo Information: http://archive.is/3ETwh
  • “Mad” Mike Hughes – https://madmikehughes.com/
  • Russell Dibird, Flat Earth Media Group http://www.femg.com/
  • Shelley Lewis – Flat Earth Radio – http://ferlive.com/
  • Chris Pontius (F.E. Models) – https://flatearthmodels.com
  • Nathan Thompson – https://www.facebook.com/groups/OfficialFlatEarthAndGlobeDiscussion/?
  • Mike, Exploring Again – http://exploringagain.com
  • IPS. – http://archive.is/hf5C5
  • Brother Earnest – http://www.nasalies.org/

I first became aware of “Tim Osman” from his work debunking the Flat Earth theory. He’s done some amazing work there with highly visual demonstrations of the curve of the Earth using drone footage. But when I asked if I could use some of that footage he declined, and later berated me on his channel. It turned out he did not like my debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, because he is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist (although he disputes the term.)

I asked him for an interview, and he agreed, with no video, and with him live-streaming it to his channel. It starts out a bit adversarial and the first half is largely him grilling me about my beliefs. But we eventually agree on a little common ground, which is always a great first step in genuine communication.

Dan used to be convinced that some kind of drastic collapse of society was just around the corner. He was prepared for this, stockpiling food and supplies, and watching all the lastest prepper/survivalist videos on YouTube, as well as making his own videos about what was going to happen. When Obama came to power he received and initially believed dire warnings that some kind of society “reset” was imminent. But then nothing happened, and he gradually realized that probably nothing was happening, and all the worrying about it was a waste of time and having a bad effect on his life. So he stopped, deleted all his videos, and stopped consuming conspiracy theories. He’s a lot happier now.

In this second part of my extended conversation with Stian Arnesen (first part here) we delve deeper into 9/11. Firstly we discuss the Alaska report on World Trade Center Building 7. This is a report by Prof. Leroy Hulsey ,paid for by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, a group that promotes the conspiracy theory that the World Trade Center was destroyed with pre-planted explosives. The report is intended to prove that fire alone could not be responsible for the collapse. Stian has been corresponding with various members of AE911Truth for a while, and has something of an inside perspective on what to expect.

Following on from this we discuss why it’s so hard to get serious scientists to look into the science behind conspiracy theory claims. I relate my experience with doing a study of scientist’s beliefs about Chemtrails.

In the second half of this episode Stian brings up a number of questions he still has about how the World Trade center collapsed the way it did. I try to explain.

Stian Arensen has been involved in the 9/11 Truth community for a number of years, and in the last year or so has been questioning some of the underpinnings of that community. Stian has also been very interested in topics such as crop circles and UFOs.

We discuss how Stian’s thinking has evolved over time, and examine the parallels between the various communities – in particular we look at the effects of questioning the group consensus, and how it can lead to exclusion from a group unwilling to move forward.

Stian also questions me about my debunking, and some things I’ve said in the past, and I try to explain.

 

In this first episode of Tales from the Rabbit Hole, I give a brief introduction and then talk to my first guest, Jon, an ex-conspiracy theorist

Tales from the Rabbit Hole is an interview-style podcast focusing on people whose lives have been affected by the conspiracy theory rabbit hole. Guests include both former and current believers in a variety of conspiracy theories, as well as debunkers, skeptics, and the investigators of those theories.

I’m Mick West, a debunker. I wrote the book Escaping the Rabbit Hole – How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories using Facts, Logic, and Respect. This book came from my experiences running Metabunk – a debunking Forum. Over the years I realized simply presenting corrections to people is not enough. We need effective communication, and we can’t do that if we don’t listen and talk with each other. I’m hoping this podcast will help bridge that gap.

EX CONSPIRACY THEORIST

My first guest is Jon, an ex conspiracy theorist who runs the Facebook Group “The Ex Conspiracy Theorist.” Jon talks about how he became a conspiracy theorist, and how it relates to his religious past as a Mormon. He discusses the things that initially convinced him, like Glenn Beck theories about Obama’s “Czars”, the “New World Order,” and how he came to realize those things were not what Alex Jones said they were.

Jon is now very active online on Facebook and his blog. Since we’ve recorded this he’s also started a Twitter account.

It’s a short first episode, and I hope to have Jon on again for a more extended conversation about his debunking work.

Notes and Links

American Presidency Project’s Search for “New World Order”
https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/advanced-search?field-keywords=%22new+world+order%22&field-keywords2=&field-keywords3=&from%5Bdate%5D=&to%5Bdate%5D=&person2=&items_per_page=100

Ex Conspiracy Theorist’s Sites:

https://www.facebook.com/exconspiracytheorist/
https://exconspiracy.blogspot.com/
https://www.patreon.com/exconspiracytheorist
https://twitter.com/ExConspiracyGuy

Mick West & Metabunk

https://www.metabunk.org
http://contrailscience.com/
https://twitter.com/mickwest
https://www.youtube.com/mickwest
https://www.facebook.com/Metabunk/
https://www.amazon.com/Escaping-Rabbit-Hole-Conspiracy-Theories/dp/1510735801/