Tag: missile

An airplane con(spiracy)trail

By Phil Plait | February 23, 2011 11:30 am

"Senator Bob" Smith was a US Senator of New Hampshire for 13 years, a NH Congressman for six years before that, and served on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee for two years.

Which means exactly nothing when it comes to not buying into ridiculous conspiracy theories.

la_missile_contrailFor evidence of this, I direct you to an OpEd "Senator Bob" wrote for the Orwellianly-named Accuracy in Media website where he claims that we still don’t have answers about a supposed missile launch off the coast of LA last year. It has all the usual hallmarks of a breathless conspiracy theory: a total of 16 rhetorical questions most of which have nothing to do with the actual topic, accusations of coverup at the highest levels, an off-handed mention that Obama might not be an American citizen (seriously), and a lot of self-aggrandizement.

All this over a contrail?

Yup. The deal is, last November a news helicopter pilot got some pictures of an airplane contrail over LA, and people — especially the media — went nuts covering it, speculating it was a secret missile launch. However, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear it was just a contrail, and in fact was clear to reality-based folks pretty much from the start. Of course, the media mistake Jupiter and Venus for UFOs, so I wouldn’t trust them very far.

But "Senator Bob" was an actual Senator! And he says stuff like this:

The truth is this. I do not know the truth, but I do bring my own credibility to this subject…

Senator, I think you misspelled "credulity". But at least he didn’t claim it was a chemtrail. Maybe that’s next week’s OpEd.

Anyway, the point here is that credentials mean nothing when out of context — his serving on the Armed Services Committee is meaningless when it comes to image analysis, for example — and not to belabor the obvious, but politicians are not always the best source of information on a topic. Or a lot of topics.

Related posts:

Hit or missile
Followup: More on the LA contrail/missile
Awesomely bizarre light show freaks out Norway
Update on the Norway spiral
It’s a UFO by Jove
Erie UFO sounds familiar to me

Followup: More on the LA contrail/missile

By Phil Plait | November 18, 2010 10:02 am

la_missile_contrailJust a quick note about that whole silly missile/contrail non-troversy that popped up last week: the website Contrail Science has a pretty good and quite lengthy writeup of the affair, complete with pretty convincing diagrams showing this was just an airplane. Interestingly, the author of that site concludes it was a different airline flight than the one I mentioned in my post the other day, but the bottom line is that this was certainly an airplane and not anything sinister.

I’ve talked about this before, both on the blog and at public lectures: the Internet is a two-edged sword when it comes to nonsense. It allows the spread of misinformation to be so rapid that there’s hardly a chance of getting corrections noticed before millions are infected… but it does make the inoculating knowledge easier to get out there as well.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before — remember the Texas fireball people thought was debris from two satellites that collided? — and we’ll see it again. We in the reality-based community must be vigilant to make sure the correct information gets out there. We can’t prevent misinformation from getting out, and we can’t even really stop it once it hits the street. But we can minimize it, and make sure there are repositories of knowledge to which we can refer others.

Tip o’ the tin foil beanie to Dan Durda.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Debunking, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: contrail, missile

Hit or missile

By Phil Plait | November 12, 2010 10:53 am

So I got a bazillion emails and tweets about the so-called "missile launch" off of LA the other day. I was on travel and couldn’t really write about this, and by the time I could it was already being shown to be a plane contrail. And I wouldn’t even write about it now, but I have to link to this clip from The Daily Show where they pretty much nail it:

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Missile: Impossible
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

The part about the helicopter pilot is magnifique! That’s a perfect example of skeptical thinking. And Occam’s Razor slices pretty well here; what’s more common in LA, an airplane or a missile launch? It shows the relevance once again of the old skeptical adage: If you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.

Unless you live in the African grassland. Or near a zoo. Whatever.

And I’ll add that a guy appears to have figured out not only that it was a plane, but what flight it was, which I note simply because I know the comments to this post will soon be filled with conspiracy theorists who will claim this is a coverup for a transdimensional porthole like the one over Norway or Australia that were certainly not rocket boosters even though all the evidence points that way because they just know it and use words that sound sciencey but are actually the blog-comment equivalent of an Ogden Nash poem.


Tip o’ the tin foil beanie to reddit for that last bit about the plane spotter.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: DeathfromtheSkies!, Humor, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: missile, The Daily Show

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