The Gonzo Science Files: HAARP and the Skeptics
Written By: Jim Richardson and Allen Richardson
“Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions….
“The key to skepticism is to continuously and vigorously apply the methods of science to navigate the treacherous straits between ‘know nothing’ skepticism and ‘anything goes’ credulity….”
-From ‘What is a skeptic?’, Intro to Skeptic Magazine.
Since the stated mission of skeptics everywhere is to deliver the light of reason to a public besieged by controversial claims, protoscience, psuedoscience, magic, spiritualism, the occult, superstition, and conspiracy theory, surely any evidence of intellectual sloppiness within the skeptical community should be treated with the utmost gravity. A recent article published in Skeptic (Vol. 10, # 1) caught our attention as being a little “half-baked.” The article – by David Naiditch - is a disheartening example of lackluster scientific reporting, and reflects poorly on the community of skeptics of which Naiditch is a part.
Naiditch is listed first among senior scientists in Skeptic’s roster, and his credentials attribute to him a BA in math, an MA in philosophy, and we’re told he works as a software engineer. His piece - “Is Baked Alaska Half-baked?” - deals with a controversial scientific project situated near Gakona, Alaska known as the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP).
The HAARP project is a huge array of antennas that can manipulate the ionosphere with its energies. Naiditch’s Skeptic article claims that HAARP has become “a favorite target for conspiracy theorists and doomsayers.” This is indisputably true. Naiditch provides a list of controversial claims and identifies the culprits who made them. Citing Dr. Nick Begich’s and Jeanne Manning’s Angels Don’t Play This HAARP, and HAARP: Ultimate Weapon of the Conspiracy (by former Executive Director of the national UFO Museum Jerry E. Smith), Naiditch lists the claims (presumably culled from the two books and the internet).
As Naiditch reports, HAARP has been described as or blamed for: “power outages in western states, downing of TWA flight 800, mysterious diseases such as Gulf War Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as a mind control device that spurred the Columbine High School shootings, as an impenetrable missile defense shield, a death ray, a machine that can interfere with the migratory paths of wild animals, a diabolical tool wielded by the forces of the Antichrist, a worldwide communications jammer, an apparatus that can cause the earth to spin out of control, and a system linked to UFO activity.”
It would appear that these allegations about the HAARP project are a textbook case of a conspiratorially minded and hysterical public in need of some critical thinking, allegedly a specialty of Naiditch and of skeptics everywhere.
According to Naiditch, HAARP is a target for fear mongering psuedoscientists and conspiracy theorists because “HAARP is a gigantic, high energy Pentagon funded gizmo located in the remote Alaskan wilderness that plays around with the Earth’s ionosphere, but whose purpose seems deeply mysterious to the scientifically uninformed.” Well, my goodness. Is there a skeptic in the house who can allay these unfounded fears?
Naiditch debunks the claim that HAARP is a secret government project by pointing out that HAARP is staffed by researchers from different industries and universities, including MIT, University of Maryland, University of Alaska, University of Massachusetts, Cornell, Stanford, Penn State, UCLA, Dartmouth, etc. Furthermore, the HAARP site appears unsecured in photos, and public tours occasionally occur. Perhaps those observations are sufficient for the typical reader of Skeptic, and it does initially appear to be somewhat cut and dry.
However, it quickly becomes clear that observing the lack of fences from a picture is apparently the only research Naiditch actually did. Incredibly, he tells us that “perhaps the best defense of HAARP is posted on the official HAARP website.” He then tackles a few frequently asked questions with answers that come straight from the official HAARP website.
The implication of course is that no reasonable criticism of the project has surfaced that cannot be dismissed as conspiracy theory, or that cannot be countered by the list of prestigious academic institutions, all conveniently provided on the official website.
Naiditch is clearly not the skeptic to pursue this topic if his idea of “critical thinking” is to parrot the official website. Is this Skeptic’s idea of a good, solid debunking?
The official answer to “Can HAARP be used for military purposes?” is “Although the Air Force and Navy jointly manage HAARP, officials claim HAARP is not designed for military purposes, but is a research facility whose specifications were developed by a consortium of universities.” Well, no smoking gun here! But it certainly states, in extremely matter-of-fact terms, one simple truth about science and technology: academic science is the military’s bitch. And sometimes, so is Skeptic magazine.
Tune in next week as we take our Gonzo submersible into the fetid depths of HAARP conspiracy theory.
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