Monday, September 24, 2007

Bias Against Humans

The other day someone accused me of being biased against peasants.

That’s not exactly true. I’m just biased against most humans.

Backtrack: I mentioned to someone about the meteor that fell in South America. A fireball was seen in a remote region of Peru. Later a smelly crater - apparently created by a meteor slamming into the earth - was discovered. Local villagers went to look at the impact site and many fell sick later, symptoms ranging from headaches to stomach pain. [link]

I said that a number of different answers could apply to the outbreak of illness, e.g., mass hysteria (or to use the more accurate term, collective delusion). The other person replied I was being prejudiced against the peasants who reported being sick.

I told her that it had nothing to do with the socio-economic background of the people. Collective delusion has been reported over the years, involving people from all social groups.

There’s the classic case of the Seattle windshield pitting epidemic [link] that occurred in Washington state back in 1954. All sorts of people were noticing pits in their windshields that they assumed had appeared out of nowhere. Speculation and rumor ran rampant. Did it have something to do with cosmic rays or nuclear testing? Or was it gangs of kids going around on a BB gun spree?

Not really. In most cases the pits were already there. They were created by prosaic incidents such as loose gravel on the road flying into the windshield. That’s why most marks were found on the front window, not the back one. No one bothered to notice them until the story hit the media. If the story had never been reported, people would have continued looking through the pits. (And, of course, the awareness generated by the media probably caused some juvenile delinquents to copycat the suspected crime.)

Citizens from all walks of life – educated professionals, skilled laborers, etc. – were caught up in the delusion. And don’t forget those authority figures – police, military, governmental – who added to the problem when they overlooked a simple explanation, thinking that something mysterious was going on. (It should be noted that an official from the Seattle police crime lab figured out the truth: most reports were caused by pubic hysteria with some vandalism thrown in.)

It doesn’t matter if peasants or college professors are involved in an unusual event. Human perception must always be considered as a factor.

I don’t know what is going on with that crater in Peru. I’m not into One Answer explains every event every time. It’s reasonable that among the theories to what caused the many reports of illness, collective delusion could be included. Maybe some people actually felt sick – for whatever reason – and others, concerned about the mysterious crater, thought they were also affected, minds over matter.

It doesn’t have to be the Andromeda Strain on the loose.

[Newspaper image from]

UPDATE: 9/27/07

It seems I've been vindicated. Collective delusion or public hysteria was probably a factor in the large number of reported illnesses:

While we are keeping score, only 30 were sickened, the researcher told National Geographic, not the hundreds as previously estimated. Presumably, the remainder had the “provoked psychosomatic ailments” that one scientist diagnosed. [link]

I should have made my position clearer earlier by stating that I didn't doubt people were getting sick or that the meteor had something to do with it. I was considering all the angles, including the possibility some of the reported illness being "in the mind," due to the unusual event.

Another angle was that the fireball sighting and the crater were unrelated. The meteor burned up or landed elsewhere and the crater was a volcanic mudhole that happened to form or be discovered at the same time. But according to the same linked article, meteorite material was found in the crater so there is a direct connection established. One theory was material in the ground, not the meteor, caused people to feel ill. This turns out to be the case:

Martine Hanlon told the BBC experts did not believe the meteor would make anybody sick, but they did think a chemical reaction caused by its contact with the ground could release toxins such as sulphur and arsenic.

Anyway, when it comes to puzzling incidents like this one, I think all the angles have to be entertained until more data comes in.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Plan From Outer Space?

The push is on. Posters are circulating to make people aware of what they should do in the case of an emergency (i.e., TERRORISTS STRIKE!)

The poster features “nine essential items to help you shelter-in-place in the event of an emergency,” (i.e., TERRORISTS BLOW UP YOUR CITY!!!).

Emblazoned on the colorful poster is the logo, “Plan 9.”

Plan 9? Where have I seen that term before?

The poster lists items such as water, food, medications, and a first aid kit. Obviously a plan to reanimate the semi-dead. Is Ed Wood in charge of this project? Or could it be sinister aliens from another world who like their meat ambulatory, easy to herd, fresh on the hoof?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Free Association: A Creative Mind At Work

I was sitting around the coffee shop the other day, killing time. I was bored.

For some reason the name of a city popped into my head: Butte, Montana.

Like I said, I was really bored.

(Does cute rhyme with butte?)

Mutant Fowl Up

Bioengineering firm G Spot unveiled its line of polychromatic chickens. The birds are striking, variegated color bands marking their bodies from beak to tail. The head might be shade of green or yellow while the other end could be dark blue or bright red. Unfortunately a couple of defects can’t be overlooked.

Doctor Jean Nettics, head of research at G Spot, said that flower DNA was spliced into the DNA stands of a common chicken to create the multicolored mutations. While the feather color change was successful, the altered avians suffer from unusual disabilities.

The roosters make horrible sounds because they crow backwards. The repeated reversed crowing soon causes their throats to collapse and they suffocate.

A few of the chickens are afflicted with head spinning, constantly twisting their heads in circles. This chronic action disconnects their necks. Eventually their heads sag and droop; they’re unable to eat.

The DNA splicing is so effective that it only has to be performed once. The bio-engineered birds lay rainbow-splashed eggs that pass on the new genetic information to the next generation of hatchlings.

People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals – PETA – has vigorously lodged a complaint against G Spot. PETA spokesman Fred Furrier quit his job at the Weekly World News to crusade on the behalf of mutational mistakes such as the defective multicolored chickens.

“Man wasn’t meant to tamper with the forces of nature,” he intoned. “Some eggs are better left unhatched.”

Furrier is concerned what will happen of mutant chicken eggs accidentally end up in the food supply. Or if some people decide to deliberately ingest such eggs to produce certain results.

“Look at these crazy kids today,” observed Furrier. “They like to ruin their hair with all sorts of strange dyes: purple, pink, Bozo orange. Why bother dying their hair when they can chow down a mutagenic omelet and let perverted nature run its course?”

Furrier understands that some people will find the freaky fowl story unbelievable. But he adds: “It must be true. There are photos on the Internet!”