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Tri And Tri Again

When was the last time you thought about The Bermuda Triangle? When was the last time you thought the triangle caused a serious threat?

It turns out that in a recent poll, 41% of respondents believe that there is a danger associated with The Bermuda Triangle.

Also known the Devil’s Triangle, The Bermuda Triangle is a triangular area in the Atlantic Ocean bounded roughly at its points by Miami, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico. Legend has it that many people, ships and planes have mysteriously vanished in this area. How many have mysteriously disappeared depends on who is doing the locating and the counting. The size of the triangle varies from 500,000 square miles to three times that size, depending on the imagination of the author. (Some include the Azores, the Gulf of Mexico, and the West Indies in the “triangle.”) Some trace the mystery back to the time of Columbus. Even so, estimates range from about 200 to no more than 1,000 incidents in the past 500 years.

By now, you would think that most of the English speaking world would be familiar with James Randi and his book ‘Flim-Flam’, in which he devotes an entire chapter to the not-so-mysterious Bermuda Triangle. From his own encyclopedia:

The whole legend began in December 1944 when five Avenger bombers of the U.S. Navy were lost while on a routine training mission out of the Fort Lauderdale air base. A sensational 1974 book by Charles Berlitz, The Bermuda Triangle, brought this supposed mystery to the attention of the public.

The Berlitz book, written thirty years after the loss of the bombers, contained invented details, distorted and exaggerated figures and descriptions, and even fabricated radio conversations that were claimed to have taken place between the naval pilots and the Fort Lauderdale air base. The event was not that unusual, if the invented details are ignored, and as evidence for any sort of mystery in the triangle, the Avenger bombers matter is a very poor example, but it remains as the event most quoted by the believers.
Other ships that are said to have vanished in the area either did not exist, or sank or capsized in other areas – even in the Pacific or Mediterranean – or went down due to perfectly ordinary and well understood causes.

The Bermuda Triangle, an area subject to violent storms and rough seas, does produce problems, but no more than any other similar area anywhere in the world. There is no need to ascribe supernatural or even unusual causes to any losses that occur there. Unless, of course, you want to sell lots and lots of books.

So how is it that the entirely debunked theory of there being anything amiss about the Bermuda Triangle still carries any water in the minds of people today? I think it comes down to the old adage that pseudosciences (and mythologies for that matter) can always be created, yet will never fully go away. Perhaps if you took the same poll of people in the late 1970’s the 41% figure would actually be substantially higher. Perhaps the 41% number is a sign that belief in the danger of the Bermuda Triangle is in decline since its peak, prior to Randi’s treatment in the early 1980’s.

Yet 41% still seems too high a number for adults to be influenced by ghost-stories, fantasies, and systematic misinformation.

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