1. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    To "debunk", according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is to

    "Remove the ‘nonsense’ or false sentiment from; to expose false claims or pretensions"


    Debunking has been a hobby of mine ever since I was young, when I grew up reading a magazine called "The Unexplained - Mysteries of Mind Space and Time", a magazine published in 1980 that told tales of UFOs, ghosts, magic, and strange beasts. For many years these things were causes of great fear to me.

    When I was a child I used to lay awake at night, literally trembling with the thought that some alien could enter my room, and spirit me away to perform experiments on me, or that ghosts might actually be hovering around me, ready to shriek into existence, or softly stroke my face with disembodied hands reaching out of the darkness.

    In particular one small book, written for children, really scared me. It contained an account of the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter, a tall tale of a farmhouse under attack by little green men. At one point they describe turning around to see a clawed hand reaching down towards them.

    But as I grew up and learned more of science, and the way the world actually worked, then these fears dropped away. I did not lose my fascination with these fringe topics, but instead became even more interested in them, particularly in seeking out the most reasonable explanations of strange phenomena. I never fully rid myself of the fear - I'm still not entirely comfortable in the dark, nor in a shower in a empty house (perhaps thanks to watching Psycho at too young an age). I can rationalize it away, I know the fear is an illusion, but it's still there.

    Along the way I took up debunking as a hobby. Mostly online, where bunk is most copious. But also in real life, where opportunities to explain subjects like homeopathy, or the cold readings of spiritualists, crop up with depressing regularity. I continued to read the Unexplained magazines, but now the greatest source of fascination to me was the explanations. Spontaneous Human Combustion was less a source of fear that I might suddenly burst into flames, and more a macbre wonderment that a human corpse could burn, the flames fed by body fat, and the wicking action of clothes. I liked to share this information with my friends.

    Part of the reason why I debunk now is anger at the fear this nonsense instilled in me as a young child. Perhaps you can't do much to stop children being afraid of the dark, but I can still call out the bunk in the tales, and perhaps that will help someone be less afraid. Perhaps it will stop people from passing off these stories as true. Every little helps.

    My first "internet" debunking was on the BBSs of the late 1980s. FidoNet, to be precise - not even an internet as such, but a collection of modem based bulletin boards that called each other up at night to swap information. Interactions were necessarily slow, so two people would often exchange only one message a day, or less.

    There was some religious guy that I argued with, perhaps a priest. He had some rather religiously orthodox ideas about the universe, and I tried to convert him to atheism. How young and foolish I was, in my early 20s. I'd just read "The Anthropological Cosmological Principle" and "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown the Bicameral Mind", and I was full that those ideas, and even tried to get him to read those books. I remember very little of our discussions, just that we were polite, and both unyielding.

    One thing I do remember is that he was a big fan of something called Panin's Proof, which was basically a checksum in the Bible, an early version of the "Bible Codes". It worked as convincing bunk back then because it relied on the "NASA Supercomputers" to calculate, and later when everyone had a supercomputer and could verify this "proof", it just evaporated. Now it's been relegated to the status of those wild claims you find in a breathless chain-email, forwarded by people who want to believe.

    That was in England. I move to California in 1990, and was mostly busy with work for the next decade, consequently much of my debunking was at work - as emails would get passed around (after we actually got email, in around 1996) , I was always quick to point out the errors, and direct the writer to something like Snopes, if possible. I remember one particular story around the time of the Mad Cow scare, where it was theorized that 50% of Britons (including myself) would be dead of prion induced CKJ disease within ten years. Of course I'm still fine, but the effects of that media scare live on, in that I STILL can't donate blood in the US. A good example of the negative effects of junk science.

    I took up debunking more seriously again after I left my company in 2003, and started work as a writer for Game Developer magazine, which gave me a lot more spare time. I joined Wikipedia where I did lots of minor little editing on topics like homeopathy and audiophiles, but then I found a big source of bunk in the form of Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge (now called "Scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts"), which is rather a fringe subject that suggests that there is scientific truth in the bible that was not available to humanity at the time it was written, and hence must be proof it was written by God. I delved into such arcane subject as Ancient Egyptian Medicine, biblical exegesis, phytopharmacology, and vegetarian lions. There was one editor there "Ken" who was quite doggedly trying to insert his religious viewpoint into the article, and I just as doggedly pushed back with the forces of science and reason.

    Ken eventually got banned for edit-wars, and he gave up and moved on. I remained, and poking around on wikipedia I found an article on a proposed medical condition called "Morgellons". It looked a bit suspicious to me, people claiming there were fibers coming out of their skin. I made some edits to the page in March and April 2006. After a few weeks, I found the subject so interesting that I started my first single-subject skeptical blog (using blogger.com at the time, later switching to Wordpress). I did this anonymously, and wanting to keep that anonymity I abandoned the wikipedia account I had under my own name, and opened another using a pseudonym.

    MorgellonWatch.com was my hobby for nearly three years. I wrote over a hundred articles, and got over 12,000 comments. During the first year or so there were several media stories regarding Morgellons, and I received many requests for interviews. I declined to be interviewed, because I wanted to remain anonymous. I was actually a little embarrassed by the amount of work I put into my hobby, and preferred to not discuss it with anyone

    I learned my lessons while running Morgellons Watch. The most important one was that of being polite and respectful to those people that you disagree with. Nothing good comes of insulting someone, even unintentionally. Nothing good comes of allowing hateful discourse in the comments section either. There were two commenters who accounted for perhaps a quarter of those 12,000 comments between them. One of them, TC, tended to be quite brutal in his appraisal of the people who thought they had Morgellons. Over time, due to their repeated positing of comments, and a couple of guest articles I invited them to write, they became perceived by some as the face of the site, and hence the ill will that TC's attitude generated became focussed on me, as the site owner. I had several online threats (not entirely serious, but still), people tried to track me down, and eventually I simply deleted the comments entirely, because the comments were what people were focussing on, and not the articles.

    While doing Morgellons Watch, I found another topic on Wikipedia, Chemtrails. This was attractive to me because at the time I was taking flying lessons, and aviation and the weather were topics of interest to me. Rather than spend much time editing Wikipedia, I simply started a new blog: contrailscience.com.

    Chemtrails seemed safer ground, but the believers overlapped, so there was still this constant problem of people getting so upset that conversation as impossible. I instituted a politeness policy which grew more and more strict as time went by.

    In December 2009, I had a story hit the big time with the "Mystery Missile" - where a plane flying from Hawaii to the mainland left a contrail on the horizon that looked a bit like a missile trail. I wrote a few articles debunking this, and ended up being contacted by the media, who wanted to interview me. At the time I was still anonymous, but I decided then that my debunking would be taken more seriously, and be more effective, if I was honest about who I was. So I "broke cover", and went on TV.

    I got a lot of traffic from that. Nearly a million visitors. This felt like a good time to branch out a bit. There was a lot of discussion on Contrail Science, but the blog format was cumbersome, and the topics quite often strayed off the topic of contrails, and onto broader conspiracies, or other strange phenomena. So I decided to set up a forum, to foster more of that conversation.

    So Metabunk.org was born. The name Metabunk is meant to convey the idea of thinking about debunking, and not simply doing it. Thinking about how to debunk better, and thinking about why we debunk, and what it is we are really trying to do.

    Metabunk is still a fairly small forum, and still evolving. I enforce the politeness policy more than ever (although it's hard to get it right every time), and I think this gives it a unique and pleasant atmosphere. I spend quite a bit of time here, continuing my 30+ years long hobby of debunking.
    Last edited: May 26, 2016
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  2. David Fraser

    David Fraser Senior Member

    Wow. A blast from the past as I used to collect that myself. One issue came with a flimsy record that when played apparently had voices of the dead on it. I may still have it somewhere in my 2000AD collection.

    Thanks for sharing Mick. That made for an interesting read :)
  3. Soulfly

    Soulfly Banned Banned

    Is there a copy of the TV interview you gave for the mystery missile anywhere online?
  4. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    I had that record. And a 2000AD collection :)
  5. Soulfly

    Soulfly Banned Banned

    Off topic but this record you speak of reminded me of something that happened to me and some friends. We were trippin and listening to Pink Floyd when the tape sounded like the deck was eating it, it sounded like Satan was communicating with us. We took the tape out of the deck and the tape was fine, it played normal after that and never did that again.
  6. Joe Newman

    Joe Newman Active Member

    Thanks for sharing this, Mick. I've been wondering for a while re the motivations for self-identified debunkers and had come to the conclusion that it was to at least some degree based in fear and a backlash against religion.

    When I found this site by accident, I really wanted to start a thread on this subject, but figured it would be dismissed out of hand, but I am very much interested in the debunking dynamic and think it would be a fascinating topic to explore.
  7. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    I think there's a variety of reasons. I'm really not that interested in debunking supernatural/religious stuff now. I'd certainly not say that my debunking of chemtrails or 9/11 comes from religion or fear at all.
  8. Soulfly

    Soulfly Banned Banned

    I got into debunking I guess you could say by accident. I just wanted to look into some of the meme type pictures I was seeing all over my social media. More often than not I found it was bunk. I was labeled a troll and sheeple by many I thought were friends for trying top point it out, it only made me want to learn more about these claims. I wanted to learn the science behind them and in that it has helped me become better at critical thinking. Metabunk has helped me a lot in this. I don't think there is any fear factor for me.
  9. Jay Reynolds

    Jay Reynolds Senior Member

    I can't say this was the start for me, but at a young age I invested a considerable sum of my savings, $1.25 on an order of "Sea Monkeys" offered by mail order on the back page of a comic book. As advertised they would be frisky yet tiny monkeys which would swim around in water. Sounded like a great opportunity to experience, and though it was a great expense, I decided I just had to have them.


    When I received the package I was disappointed to find that I had bough a pinch of what looked like sand but were supposedly the dormant eggs of brine shrimp. I don't even recall if I ever tried to grow them out I was so furious at being ripped off.

    The experience impressed on me that even grown ups who could print glossy comic books would lie through their teeth sometimes, even to kids, and I decided then and there to be skeptical of what people told me.

    I, too was fascinated with science fiction stories and UFO claims as an adolescent.

    In the mid-1990's, I bought a PC and offered to do some research for a man named William Cooper who was interested in conspiracy theories.
    My research subjects were NB&C terrorism environmental, property rights and education issues.
    In 1999, I wrote an article for Cooper's newspaper Veritas debunking the chemtrails conspiracy theory, and have followed the issue since.
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  10. Soulfly

    Soulfly Banned Banned

    Sea Monkeys are real!
  11. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
  12. Drew

    Drew Active Member


    Thanks for sharing this. I've pieced together enough of your background here and there through context, but it's great to see the story of the origins of your approach to debunking presented so directly.

    I've been a lurker here for over a year, and after the Boston Marathon bombing in April I began to actively post intermittently. I sincerely appreciate what you do here, and the tremendous patience and overall civility with which you do it.

    I can thoroughly identify with your fearful childhood preoccupation with woo, though in my case in the 1980s it was based on spookier episodes of Robert Stack's Unsolved Mysteries and cable rebroadcasts of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, as well as Michael Norman's Haunted Heartland and Time-Life's Mysteries of the Unknown series checked out from the public library (all still great if you care to find copies).

    I vividly remember being actively obsessed with ghosts, alien abduction, "shadow people", JFK, government secrecy, and the like. For a time, I was horrified by the fear that my mother would spontaneously combust. This was all undergirded by childhood religious preoccupations with demons, Satan, and hell, as well as an admittedly precocious late-Cold-War-era anxiety about nuclear war.*

    But I found my way through it. I'd have to say that a skeptical ethic had something to do with this.

    Skeptical reasoning has its limitations, but skepticism when it's at its best is not about a kind of spoilsport know-it-all-ism or a knee-jerk adherence to conventional wisdom, but rather the opposite. We don't necessarily "know" all that much, and certainly not all of what's going on in the universe, and there's no reason to believe something is true simply because a lot of other people believe it is true. But from the starting point, from the minimum, what can we prove that we know? What best explains the facts without extraneous complications?

    If this is a ramble, just take it as a sign that your post spoke to me well.

    In any event — thanks, Mick. If you ever find yourself in NYC, let me buy you a pint.

    *To borrow the footnoting style: I have a pet theory that for Americans (and probably most westerners) during the late 1980s-2000s, the relatively sudden diminishment of MAD-era nuclear dread has a lot to do with the 1990s' explosion of conspiracism, in that it left a lot of free-floating cultural anxiety which, while previously neatly focused on the USSR's ICBMs, found a home in a profusion of anti-government/NWO/Illuminati paranoias. It's a weird blowback of decades of Cold War rhetoric — somewhere out there there are a bunch of bad guys who could really ruin your life, they have a plan to take over, they're unpredictable and unappeasable, and they can't be reasoned with because they're evil. You can't tell this to people for four decades and not expect some weird, lingering results. Ahem.
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  13. HappyMonday

    HappyMonday Moderator

    The whole collection of The Unexplained was to be found in my house when I was young. As was a 2000AD collection.

    Great post.
  14. Jazzy

    Jazzy Closed Account


    That was neatly summed up. I'll go along with that. :)
  15. Jazzy

    Jazzy Closed Account

    I don't suppose it's possible. It's an existential fear. Drew's point about its transferral is salient. My worst fears are on the horizon, and are something to do with our own nature, which is good at short-term responses to directly-perceived threats, but poor over longer periods of time when a threat is moving really slowly and difficult to see. The CO2 heat imbalance...

    Thanks, Mick.
  16. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    It's also a primal fear, biological. Fear of the dark, fear of the unknown. It suits our genes better for their phenotype (me) to be afraid of the unknown.

    I must stress though, lest people get the wrong idea, I'm not debunking things because I'm afraid of them, not because I'm afraid they might be true. I debunk in part because I recognize the fear that bunk can stir in other people. I recognize the impact of those false beliefs.

    I left the real fear of ghosts behind a long time ago. Now I just have the annoying habitual reactions to bumps in the night. You know how the brain is.
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  17. mynym

    mynym Banned Banned

    Cool story.

    Although it seems to me that you might have to be careful of using base emotions like fear to cause an alchemical transmutation of bunk (false pattern recognition) into the symbolic gold standard of science (sound pattern recognition or a good theory) all the time. It might usually be a good idea to avoid a fear loop when you're twelve and prone to imagining claws or a little older and looking at a crop circle produced by charlatans and fearing where it came from and so forth. After all, you should begin to recognize a pattern that there's usually nothing to fear.

    But that "debunking" pattern of thought might not always serve you well, especially if terrorism/fear has typically been created or manipulated by technically proficient barbarians in order to serve the interests of oligarchs and empire builders throughout history. After all, then your motivation for refining or transforming your base emotions into science (usually fine) might be almost entirely misdirected into producing bunk and false forms of pattern recognitio because you couldn't come to a conclusion that might actually cause fear. An illustration: "Obama shot Osama through his left eye while pretty much looking through the eyes of Seal Team Six. This shows that our rulers care about us and that we're safer now! USA, yay! And Boston strong too!" vs. "There's a faction of madmen in the American government that would attack their own country, threaten their own presidents and risk thermonuclear war in order to maintain an Empire for oligarchs and tribute flowing through petrodollars. So we're no safer than 16 year old Muslim kids. But here's to enjoying life as peasants in the Empire in the meantime anyway." Wouldn't the side that causes fear always look like bunk that needs to be debunked in order to do away with your fears and so forth? Especially if it was wrapped up in all the kook/crackpot and charlatan stuff that goes on. It seems to me that your pattern of thought would usually be strong, yet it may contain a weakness with respect to terrorism which might itself begin to produce bunk. That would be ironic.

    On the other hand, there's the roller coaster ride of fear and hysteria produced by some loopy conspiracy theorists. I'm not really into that either. I kind of hope that people are able to connect with each other somehow and get balanced out between: "Everything is scary, we're all going to die!! Wait, here's this new crackpot theory, yay... we're saved!" and "Nothing is scary, in fact life and science is boring and mundane."
  18. Joe Newman

    Joe Newman Active Member

    I have been here for about a week, but it was also Boston that brought my attention back to the goings on out there. Before that, beyond seeing headlines roll by, I was essentially out of the loop. Saw some shots of the lockdown and it was like a punch in the face.

    Ramble? Please. This is a sterling expression of precisely the attitude I advocate and the talk I do my best to walk when it comes to investigating a topic. Kudos to you for laying it out so cogently. Oddly enough, it appears we have used the same approach to get to different ends of the spectrum. Go figure, right?

    Now, this is a fertile field for exploration, though in a different thread.
  19. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    But debunking is just figuring out the facts using science and reason. It's not automatically assuming scary theories must be wrong.

    There are plenty of scary things in the world: death, cancer, earthquakes, flesh eating bacteria, asteroids, accidents. One does not simply pretend they don't exist.

    It's not about fear. It's about facts.
  20. mynym

    mynym Banned Banned

    Ideally that's true. But in fact, it often isn't. I'm all for idealism though.

    Not automatically but I think you're underestimating the impact of using base emotions like fear as

    It seems to me that there's a lot of evidence that in order to talk about facts or focus on facts within the context of theories/perspectives that a lot of psychological "ground clearing" usually has to be engaged in. Because there are theories of varying explanatory power within which that which people call facts reside due to their personal experiences and the stories they believe in. Plus some people don't even really understand any theories or the concept of "facts" and theories. So all of that is usually worth a look too.... or just give it a good shake... sometimes that helps people to investigate facts that they otherwise wouldn't have due to the stories or theories that they already believe in.
  21. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    One can share facts without qualifying them with an analysis of the entire basis of cognition, belief, and epistemology.

    You don't need to overcomplicate things.
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  22. Cairenn

    Cairenn Senior Member

    When a major tornado touched down and started it's path of destruction, near our house when I was 5, (It was clearly visible, in fact it wasn't even raining. I remember sitting on the walk, putting my shoes on, while my mom and me watched it. It was between a 1/2 mile and a mile away at that time) . I started having some problems with being afraid of storms. My parents took me to the library and we checked out books on the weather and clouds--I was reading by then. They countered my fears with knowledge.

    I had a very science/knowledge based childhood. The Christmas before that tornado, I got a baby doll, a set of toy guns and holster, a real live Irish setter puppy and a world globe, all things I had asked Santa for. I didn't get the chemistry set I asked for, however. I had to buy that out of my allowance.

    FACTS are NOT dependent on one's background. The speed of light is the same for an astrophysicist as it for someone in the New Guiana jungle.
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  23. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Other than the slight difference due to the refractive index of the atmosphere in Harvard vs. New Guinea, that is. :)
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  24. Jazzy

    Jazzy Closed Account

  25. Oxymoron

    Oxymoron Banned Banned

    That has long been debunked.

    Which begs the question, are these stars actually as far away as we thought and is the 'red shift' valid?

    I really cannot get my head around the process involved in the photons 'speeding back up again'.... Can anyone explain that 'for dummies'?

    The double slit experiment is pretty amazing as well.

    BTW, cannot embed link... (edit... lol it does it automatically )
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  26. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    The speed of the photons remains the same, they just (kind of) take a longer path. Think of it as them having to avoid all the atoms and molecules in the air (or glass) by going around them.
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  27. cosmic

    cosmic Senior Member

    No conclusion should be made about c being inconstant in a vacuum simply because the behavior of photons can be cleverly manipulated in a laboratory setting.

    By the way, the YT clip provided above is taken from What the Bleep Do We Know!?, which is so rife with errors and nonsense that it should be avoided entirely. Despite the fact that it's just a snippet, it misrepresents the observer effect.
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  28. Jazzy

    Jazzy Closed Account

    The distribution and use of tasers was like a punch in the face to me (UK). They can easily kill anyone unwell or old. The users I have seen seemed to be averagely careless. I wonder what the mortality rate is. I know there is one.

    Of course in the US it beats being shot. Not that that can't happen in the UK. It has. (/grump).
  29. mynym

    mynym Banned Banned

    We disagree.
  30. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    And in disagreeing, you shared a fact that illustrated the opposite of what you are saying. Paradox?
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  31. Joe Newman

    Joe Newman Active Member

    Like I said, I had been out of the loop and paying no attention to current events at all beyond what scrolled by in the headlines. When I saw the headline about the lockdown, I saw a bit of footage of it and it was just a visceral jolt through my body and the first thing I thought was that it was a beta.

    Then I came out of hibernation and started playing catch up to figure out what had been going on and it's been a wild ride since.
  32. Joe Newman

    Joe Newman Active Member

    Heh. Indeed.
  33. David Fraser

    David Fraser Senior Member

    Found a Youtube video with the floppy record :)

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  34. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Sorry I forgot to reply to this, the CBS piece is better:

    CNN was more of a gee-whizz type thing.
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  35. Soulfly

    Soulfly Banned Banned

    Did the Pentagon ever come knocking? lol
    • Like Like x 1
  36. Joe

    Joe Senior Member

    I still think this is you Mick



    1 comments posted · 1 followers · following 0
    141 weeks ago @ Big Peace - The Missile Next Time · 4 replies · -2 points
    US Airways Flight 808 from Honolulu to Phoenix flew over that exact area at the exact same time.
    Coincidence? I think not.


  37. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

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  38. Joe

    Joe Senior Member

    then its the second guy in your other video ? http://blog.bahneman.com/content/it-was-us-airways-flight-808 who you seem to know ?
    Jet contrails from some angles look like missile trails

    UPDATE – After geting a new photo of the trail, Liam Bahneman told me he was now siding with it being his second choice, UPS902. Having reviewed the evidence, I fully agree that UPS902 is a much better fit than AWE808, especially when viewed against the composite photo.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2013
  39. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    No, marcus_sappus appears to be just a guy who posted a link on the internet. I have no idea who he is.

    I post as:
    • Mick West - Here, my real name.
    • Uncinus - My old Contrail Science name, and still on ATS and some other forums.
    • Epoxynous - My YouTube account, I just picked a random word.
    And years ago I posted on MorgellonsWatch as "Michael"
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  40. Oxymoron

    Oxymoron Banned Banned

    Poor Oxy :( It looks like a missile to me.

    Was the video speeded up or something?

    :) Least it foxied up a lot of the experts so some redemption there then.