Conspiracy Corner – Typhoon Haiyan

Every Thursday, about 8:15am, Matthew talks with Zac about conspiracy theories on 95bFM’s “Breakfast Show”.

Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda) struck the Philippines last week, and the devastation this superstorm wrought is like nothing we’ve seen before. Freak weather incidents like Haiyan appear to be becoming all the more common, and people, predictably and understandably, are trying to work out what is going on and where the blame lies. For some, the problem is not a weather system spinning out of control, say due to the forces of anthropogenic climate change, but, rather human beings tinkering with nature such that these storms are the accidental by-product of scientific investigation of our ionosphere or, more sinisterly, are being deliberately caused by members of the Military Establishment.

Dutch Sinse has made an informative video on the weather manipulation conspiracy theory angle, which you can watch below.

It is a fairly good overview of the general gist of such conspiracy theories, and what I find fascinating about it is how Sinse plays with both a weak and a strong thesis about what might have caused the superstorm. He settles quickly on the claim that storms like these are being caused by humans. This is a weak claim, in the sense that its perfectly consistent with this claim to say that such storms might be the accidental byproducts of human activity. If there is a conspiracy, with respect to this kind of claim, the conspiracy would the attempt to cover up the relationship between, say, microwave pulses and storm formations or control.

However, Sinse wants to argue for a stronger thesis, which is the claim these storms are being deliberately created and then directed to their final destinations. As such, these storms are not accidents but examples of deliberately targetted weather manipulation or control.

The weaker claim is a more plausible hypothesis than the stronger one: covering up an accident is a far more common activity than evil sciencing. ((I’m assuming: if it turns out many more conspiracy theories than I think are warranted are actually warranted, then possibly evil sciencing is just as or more common than cover-ups, which would change the analysis)) As such, the stronger claim needs to be supported by some extraordinary evidence before we should give it serious attention.

So, what’s Sinse’s evidence? Well, it’s the correlation of microwave pules to the formation of bad weather fronts.

Sinse remarks that he has shown, in four previous cases, a correlation between a microwave pulse and, within a 48 hour window, the formation or movement of a storm front. That’s a big window: in weather formation terms that is a huge time margin. So, for example, on the 3rd of November, when the storm started to form, there was a solar eclipse and the trial of the ousted Egyptian president, Morsi was meant to start. So why attribute causal power to the pulse rather than one of those other events which also occurred within the window? My guess is that it’s because microwave pulses are science-y, so it’s appropriatively causal in a way a trial isn’t (and we’re already blaming the sun and sunspots as the real cause behind apparent anthropogenic climate change.

That being said, Sinse does link the pulses with known installations. This isn’t quite a criticism of his thesis, but a rather interesting issue: he assumes weather manipulation stations will be publicly known about and identifiable. In some respects, it would be much more interesting (and much more conspiratorial) if these pulses occurred in locations where no such station was said to be known to exist. Still, as I said, this isn’t a complaint against Sinse’s thesis, since if I, for example, were to insist that weather manipulation facilities are the kind of thing which shouldn’t be findable on a publicly available map, then I would be shifting the goalposts such that the conspiracy theory would be increasingly hard to support with evidence.

The issue, of course, for this line of evidence is that correlation is not causation. Sinse wants us to believe that the chance his identified microwave pulses having no effect on the formation of storms is phenomenal, but that just assumes causation where the question is “Is there a causal link?”

Sinse’s second line of supporting evidence is a document titled “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025”, a research paper presented to the USAF in 1996. You can read it here

It’s not that startling a report; a series of “What if we…” and “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if…” It’s a prospectus for future work and many conspiracy theorists use it as proof not just that the US military wants to control the weather but that this research is ongoing and producing results. They’ll point towards cloud seeding and the like to show just how far the experiments have gone.

What Sinse is doing here is pointing towards intent, by way of the 1996 report, and evidence that said intent was acted upon, by way of evidence of weather manipulation. He then uses this to argue this is evidence of a conspiracy to hide said manipulation. However, note that for the claim of conspiracy to be warranted we have to assume that advanced weather manipulation is occurring; all of Sinse’s evidence is consistent with the claim that research is ongoing but that the weather fronts, like Haiyan, are still the result of natural causes (or caused by humans, but only accidentally). Sinse’s claim assumes a cover-up to allege a conspiracy, which is begging the question of whether a conspiracy is in effect.

I don’t think it’s ridiculous to look for causes for bad events; I can even understand why people are concerned about what seems to be an increase in severe weather conditions globally. Certainly, as someone who accepts the thesis of anthropogenic climate change, I do think humans have the capability to change the environment in a destructive way. However, this particular theory, a conspiracy by the military establishment to hide their testing of weather manipulation technologies, does not seem like it’s amongst the best explanations for the kind of events Sinse wants to explain the occurrence of. At best, it’s an explanation in the pool of potential explanations of the event, but it’s not altogether plausible, in part because it handwaves away other, seemingly more plausible explanations and also because it assumes a conspiracy when trying to prove the existence of a conspiracy.