Dec 29 2015

Avril Lavigne Is Not Dead, and Other Conspiracy Theories

avril-dead-1024x986Yesterday I wrote about types of misinformation online. I left one out – skeptics or scientists creating false information to show how easy it is for people (or specifically the press or journal editors) to be fooled.

I have never personally done this for several reasons (as tempting as it may be): I think it’s important to protect my integrity as an honest broker of information and opinion, and that would be sullied by a deliberate hoax, no matter what my intentions. I also worry about adding to the pile of misinformation out there, while the lesson would be largely lost. Also, it can be a lose-lose situation. If you pull it off well, it can backfire. If you don’t pull it off well, you look silly.

Case in point – in 2012 a Portugese-language blog created the false conspiracy theory that Avril Lavigne killed herself after her first album, and was replace by a doppleganger who took over her career. However, the replacement dropped subtle clues in lyrics and elsewhere, revealing the conspiracy.

The conspiracy theory took off, with some fans believing Avril was dead. The blog authors then issued a reveal, which was largely ignored. They proved their case, but did not quite have the outcome they were hoping for.

This episode now gets added to the pile of examples of how easy it is for people to backfill a narrative. This is one more reason not to attempt skeptical hoaxes – you don’t need to. There are enough real-world examples.

The process should be familiar to regular readers here. Once you have an idea in your head, confirmation bias kicks in and can be incredibly powerful. The human brain is well constructed for pattern recognition. We can unconsciously sift through incredible amounts of information looking for associations. When we find them, they seem impressive and we assume it is unlikely that the associations are a coincidence. This is because we literally are not aware of the millions of possible associations we had to choose from.

We also readily engage in anomaly hunting, looking for tiny details that don’t seem to fit. It’s easy to give innocent or quirky anomalies a sinister interpretation.

Finally we weave all this into a compelling narrative. We falsely feel as if our ability to explain something is evidence that the explanation is real, and support the explanation further with cherry-picked details, coincidences, and anomalies.

My favorite example is a satirical take on the first Star Wars movie. The conspiracy theory argues, from the perspective of a citizen of the Empire who is not in-the-know, that blowing up the Death Star was in inside job. How could one X-wing, flown by a farm boy, blow up the most fortified station in the galaxy? It turns out the head of security (Darth Vader – who miraculously escaped) was his father.

The Avril Lavigne story is not even new. There was a similar conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney was dead and replaced by a look-a-like. Fans looked at clues on the album covers and in the song lyrics.

Recently (sorry for the second Star Wars reference) a theory popped up on the internet that Jar Jar Binks was actually a Sith Lord conspiring with Palpatine the whole time. Was his apparent dumb luck throughout Episode 1 just bad comedy on the part of Lucas, or a sign that Jar Jar was hiding incredible skill behind a bumbling facade?

Fiction rewrites also reveal the process. You can reimagine Lord of the Rings with Aragorn and his side as the bad guys, fighting for mysticism against the rise of science and technology.

There is also a popular meme that the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy were somehow mystically linked. Proponents cherry pick coincidences between the two (both were killed on a Friday, etc.) while at times tweaking the facts to fit the narrative.  It can seem impressive because we have a hard time conceptualizing large numbers, and don’t intuitively realize the number of details proponents had to choose from to find their alignments.

All of these examples are ridiculous or fictional, but they serve as an illustration of the process of starting with a narrative and then finding supporting details, anomalies, and coincidences. This process plagues human thinking, and has many much more subtle manifestations.

Even trained scientists can fall into the trap of this kind of thinking, looking for facts to support their hypothesis and being overly impressed by its ability to explain things.

Rather, it is better to put such ideas through a fine skeptical filter. You should question every supporting detail – what does it really mean, and how likely is it for such details to be found? The ability of a hypothesis to predict new information is much more telling that its ability to explain known information.

Further, it is important to consider alternate hypotheses – do they equally account for the available information? Which one makes better predictions.

Without the skeptical filter, the default process of human reasoning will latch onto narratives because they are available, common, or comforting and them backfill the evidence in a way that can be overwhelmingly compelling but lack reality.

46 responses so far

46 thoughts on “Avril Lavigne Is Not Dead, and Other Conspiracy Theories”

  1. Khym Chanur says:

    Recently (sorry for the second Star Wars reference) a theory popped up on the internet that Jar Jar Binks was actually a Sith Lord conspiring with Palpatine the whole time. Was his apparent dumb luck throughout Episode 1 just bad comedy on the part of Lucas, or a sign that Jar Jar was hiding incredible skill behind a bumbling facade?

    About that:

    1) It seems to me that the burden of proof needed for “fiction creator intended to do X but changed his mind” is a lot lower than the burden of proof needed for “celebrity secretly died and was replaced by an impersonator”, so it’s OK to claim the first without a bunch of evidence but you’d need a whole lot more for the second.

    2) As the old saw goes, “Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense”. For instance, coincidences happen all the time in real life, but in fiction coincidences only happen when they’re red herrings. So mining a piece of fiction for patterns and anomalies can actually be sensible.

  2. mumadadd says:


    Agreed. I had a vague thought along those lines and I think you’ve articulated well.

  3. mumadadd says:

    Argh — articulated it well.

  4. Steve Cross says:

    I, for one, will be forever grateful to the “Paul is Dead” kerfuffle. I was a freshman in college at the time who just happened to be taking my first Logic & Philosophy class.

    I can still remember attending (at the behest of friends) a few of the (surprisingly huge) gatherings where unbelievably inane and ridiculous bits of “evidence” were presented by the credulous (sadly, almost everyone). It was incredibly enlightening to see example after example of the types of logical fallacies and errors in reasoning that we had just discussed in class. Probably helped my eventual “A” grade quite a bit.

    Long before I ever learned about pareidolia (thanks SGU!!), I remember getting very upset with my roommate who insisted on repeatedly playing my “Abbey Road” LP backwards on the record player to “find the hidden messages”.

  5. BillyJoe7 says:

    SN: “There was a similar conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney was dead and replaced by a look-a-like. Fans looked at clues on the album covers and in the song lyrics”

    John Lennon got his revenge with “I am the walrus”, challenging his fans to make sense of the incomprehensible lyrics:

    That video overlays the studio produced version of the song with the lyrics.
    There is a much better live version without the lyrics:

  6. Steve Cross says:


    Speak for yourself. The more evolved among us know that the words of “I am the walrus” are perfectly cromulent.

  7. DrNick says:

    I buried Paul

  8. Sylak says:

    Human can be too good at pattern recognition, I knew that, but 2 week ago my wife and I watched Room 237. We like the Shinning a lot so it was funny.
    Ok, yeah Kubrick Put detail in his movies, yes, Some might have meaning, some other might not. But wow, the level of layer of confirmation Bias and anomalies hunting was epic. Ok some hypotheses were reasonable, like hint about Native Americans or the Holocaust, or the Red Beetle crushed by the truck meaning “Screw you Stephen king”, ok I can see that. But 2 person were off the charts. One, the Moon hoax believer, ( by the way watch that false documentary about that, it’s awesome, it’s really build like a conspiracy movies, but as a demonstration of how easy it is). It was rifted with crazy stuff, like “oh the kid wear a Apollo sweater, so that a proof” Or : the moon is like approximately 237 000 miles from earth, room 237 = PROOF! You can deduce Moon Room from the door sign etc. This is clearly “tweaking the facts to fit your conclusion”, you can approximate the distance as you wish, if it’s 236 400 or 238 200, you can choose to round it up at 237 000. Approximate the closest distance or the average etc. My wife had the best quick skeptical answer “Well In kilometers it doesn’t work” ( we live in a metric system country, miles are just silly) Or even in nautical miles etc. Choosing your unit so you can fit in your conspiracy. this one was crazy.

    The second on is the last one, the guy said they play the movies with twin projector, on going foward and the other going backward, and calming that any coincidence they find that they could find “meanning” was planned by kubrick… That’s like impossible to do, when you film a movies you doN,t even know exactly how in the end all of that will be mixed together, some scenes might get removed, some, might change place etc. I can give Mister kubrick talent, but there’s a limit.

    As I wonder if there’s anything like that goin for David Lynch, I much prfer lynch to Kubrick personally, more funny and lot of detail don’t make sens, because they don,t have any. He seem to put some stuff up just becasue “wow this is cool”, I I like that.

  9. tmac57 says:

    Ahhhh I well remember the Paul is dead rumor. I was fresh out of high school, and a radio program called ‘The Beatle Plot’ hit the air in our area, and made quite a stir for a short while.
    I never really bought in to it, but the program was pretty well produced as I recall, and chock full of a Gish Gallop of anomalous details that they forced in to the narrative in a compelling way to make a kind of fun story. But ultimately, it was just too much to swallow…once the pot wore off 😉

  10. BillyJoe7 says:

    SC, I’m frooling your uppish cromulence.

  11. BillyJoe7 says:

    There was also this:

    The hoax was actually not perpetrated by the radio broadcasters, but by subsequent media reports.
    The media reports conveniently neglected to mention the fact that the radio station clearly stated on two occasions that this was a fictional story. The media reports also greatly exaggerated the public panic that ensued.

  12. SteveA says:

    BJ7: “The media reports also greatly exaggerated the public panic that ensued.”

    I heard that too, that reporters went out to look for stories of country bumpkins who’d been fooled, and when they didn’t find any, they kinda, sorta made some up…

  13. tmac57 says:

    SteveA- I remember another Steve A (Steve Allen) who on his Late night show recounted how his family and he was taken in by the program. This was the first time that I had even heard about it, and I was fascinated by the tale. It is true that reports of wide spread panic were exaggerated, but I doubt that those that were fooled, were all made up or bumpkins.
    Here is a written account by Steve Allen, who also was famously was a skeptic and CSICOP member, and rationalist (perhaps spurred on by being fooled once by this maybe?):

  14. Pete A says:

    tmac57, In my opinion, The War of the Worlds radio drama serves as a classic reminder of how most people gather their ‘information’: via channel hopping; later known as channel surfing; and recently (colloquially) know as “Having an attention span lasting less than ten seconds.”

  15. Damlowet says:

    Hey guys, Happy New Year. You too Steve!

    I have a bit of a idea which this ‘seems’ to agree with. ‘Peoples’ lives are boring, ‘they’ seem to think ordinary life is boring, so to make life a bit more exciting (entertaining), they unconsciously “Days of our Lives” it. All of a sudden, where there was nothing but tedium, a new dramatic, convoluted and juicy story evolves. One where they only seem to be one or two degrees of separation away from the action so ‘they’ can feel like a part of this exciting reality.

    Moon landing: Mainstream public, amazed for a short period of time. That amazement wanes and a new story emerges which appears to be far more exciting. It was faked! and the individual can become an expert among the gullible and really know. Why be bothered with the real facts when they are so boring, have the inside story which is being suppressed by “Big Apollo”.

    AGW, boring, what is the ‘real’ story?


  16. The same has been said about the rapper Eminem– that he died years ago and was replaced by a doppelganger. You know, because the Illuminati!

  17. Sarah says:

    In Star Wars, coincidences happen because there’s an objectively verifiable mystical substrate to the universe that propels events and people together.

    I have to admit I’m on the side of the anti-hoaxing. The only occasions under which that seems reasonable to me are essentially psychological experiments or the like – for instance, when those two Dutch young men went out with a Bible that had a Qur’an coverflap and tricked people into thinking passages from the Bible were from the Qur’an instead.

    They revealed the hoax on the spot and never deceived anyone in the documentation who had been watching it, so it’s a self-contained, labeled hoax that wouldn’t generate false information.

  18. Willy says:

    I hate to denigrate my home state, but, speaking of conspiracy theories, check out the beliefs of the woman just appointed to head the state senate’s education committee:

    On the positive side, maybe less folks will be moving to AZ and maybe Dr. Novella could use this for the SGU’s stupidest thing of the week.

  19. Bill Openthalt says:

    Happy 2016 everyone. Appropriate topic this, as my 16 year old, very bright (straight A’s on any subject from Latin to algebra) daughter has just become a 9/11 truther. She’s read all about it on the Internet, and don’t you know that the skin of airplanes is so thin birds make holes in it, so how can the planes have gone through the buildings? When I try and tell her this is nonsense, planes aren’t made of aluminum foil, the Twin Towers were central cores, and steel pillars with lots of glass and plasterboard, and as 203ft squares, not much larger than the 160ft and 180ft length of the two 767 that were flown into them (so that it’s actually a testimony to the strength of the central core they didn’t slice through them), I’m met with disdain. What do you know about planes, she says. And did you know they actually included destructive charges when they built the WTC, so they could easily be demolished? When I roll my eyes, and tell her she’s believing stuff made up by morons, she walks off in a huff. I’m not a moron she says, I verified it all on Google. So my wife tells me not to ruin New Year’s Eve, leave the child her opinion, and don’t I realize insulting her isn’t going to make her change her mind. To crown it all, my son’s girlfriend then says the government did it to be able to invade Irak, for the oil. Doesn’t everyone know this?
    Happy 2016 to everyone. Wish me strength.

  20. BillyJoe7 says:


    At one stage, my son, who is also pretty smart, though he got straight As only in the subjects he was interested in, was an AGW denier. I was about to take the same tack as you until I remembered that I started off as a AGW denier. I decided to link him to some sites that I found useful.

    PS It’s “straight As” not “straight A’s” – ask your daughter! 😉

  21. Pete A says:

    “and don’t you know that the skin of airplanes is so thin birds make holes in it” That’s why planes have to fly so fast: it stops birds landing on them and pecking holes in the skin.

  22. ccbowers says:

    BJ7. Actually A’s is correct (or at least as acceptable). It is one of the few situations in which apostrophes can be used for pluralization, because it can avoid confusion. His daughter didn’t get straight as (as what?). I agree that having a capital A makes it less confusing. Needing to “dot your is and cross your ts” may make the need for apostrophe more obvious.

  23. ccbowers says:

    “don’t you know that the skin of airplanes is so thin birds make holes in it, so how can the planes have gone through the buildings?”

    Not that it matters for convincing her, but what did she think should have happened to approximately 300,000 pound objects traveling several hundreds of miles per hour into the side of the building? Were they supposed to crumple and side down the side of the building? What is the alternative, that they didn’t actually penetrate the building and what we saw all saw was CGI footage? Of course this brings in the entire NYC + as part of the conspiracy, but I’m guessing that the argument didn’t go beyond pointing out the apparent anomaly.

  24. tmac57 says:

    Bill- I feel your pain! I was arguing with a young woman who believed in ‘scientific’ astrology, once, and trying to answer a Gish Gallop of nonsense, when she declared that there had to be something to it, because “She read a WHOLE book about it!!!”.

    You can’t tell me that a paper soda straw can penetrate a solid uncooked potato!

  25. BillyJoe7 says:


    There is no confusion with capitals such as in “straight As”, therefore an apostrophe is not used. I agree that it has become acceptable to do so, but it is strictly incorrect usage of the apostrophe. In the case of “dotting your i’s”, the apostrophe is necessary to avoid confusion. A better method, however, is to italicise or to “dot your ‘i’s”.

    But, in the land where letters are routinely dropped and swapped, I guess anything goes. 😉

  26. Pete A says:

    Here’s are two examples from Oxford Dictionaries:
    Find all the p’s in appear.
    Find all the number 7’s.

    See the section “Apostrophes and plural forms”:

  27. ccbowers says:

    “There is no confusion with capitals such as in “straight As”, therefore an apostrophe is not used.”

    That is not correct. If the rule must vary depending on the letters (type of letters, whether capitalized or not), it is not a good rule and it is not rational to insist on it. Adding an apostrophe with individual letters is not confusing, can be broadly used without confusion, and is common practice. I admit that I do not do this in practice, (or avoid it at all possible), but there is no reason to insist on it.

    While your last comment is a lame dig at the US, this rule is not just a US rule. Pete A’s link is to Oxford University Press, which is a department of Oxford University.

    “you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters…you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers”

    Of course feel free to insist on your own rules.

  28. ccbowers says:

    That is not to say that the incorrect use of apostrophe’s doesnt bother me. It do.

  29. BillyJoe7 says:


    “Here are two examples from Oxford Dictionaries:
    Find all the p’s in appear”

    For lower case letters, the apostrophe is used to avoid confusion…“dotting your is” and “find all the ps in appear” looks confusing. But a better method is to italicise or to “dot your ‘i’s” and “find all the ‘p’s in appear”.

    “Find all the number 7’s”

    The apostrophe is unecessary here. There’s no confusion about “find all the number 7s”.
    Even your link uses this in a previous example: 1900s

  30. BillyJoe7 says:


    “While your last comment is a lame dig at the US, this rule is not just a US rule.
    Pete A’s link is to Oxford University Press, which is a department of Oxford University.
    “you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters…you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers””

    That doesn’t sound like a rule to me.
    They’re merely saying that you can use it if you want to.
    Yet earlier on they used “1900s” not “1900’s”.
    “7’s” and “1900’s” even look wrong!

    “Of course feel free to insist on your own rules”

    Never use an apostrophe when you don’t have to.

  31. Pete A says:

    Above the two examples I quoted, the article states “There are one or two cases in which it is acceptable to use an apostrophe to form a plural, purely for the sake of clarity” Note the word “acceptable” and the qualifier “purely for the sake of clarity”.

    Bill O wrote: “…as my 16 year old, very bright (straight A’s on any subject…”
    BJ7 wrote: “…my son, who is also pretty smart, though he got straight As only in the subjects…”

    The context of each statement makes it easy to understand what is meant by the “A’s” and “As”. Bill O chose an acceptable use of an apostrophe to form a plural, purely for the sake of clarity. The BBC style guide insists upon such things as “NASA” being written “Nasa”, which exacerbates my reading difficulties therefore, on a purely personal level, I found that “A’s” required only one parse of the text whereas the “As” required a second parse. NB: I’m not complaining, I’m sharing this just in case anyone is interested.

    Going back to the article I quoted: 1900 means “nineteen hundred” therefore 1900’s is unacceptable, 1900s is correct; “as” isn’t the plural of “a” therefore “Find all the as in appear.” is obviously incorrect — likewise for A’s, p’s, t’s, and i’s! In the example “Find all the number 7’s.” it is, I think, obvious that the apostrophe is not indicating a possessive, it is an acceptable shorthand for “Locate each occurrence of the number 7 that appears multiple times in…”

  32. ccbowers says:

    The link Pete A posted matches what I said, and contradicts what you are insisting. Your proposed rule insists on particular usage of apostrophe, yet it it varies (i.e., the rule changes) depending on the letters involved. Therefore it is not a good rule. The solution is not to insist on what is done under these circumstances, due to there being no ideal solution.

    “Never use an apostrophe when you don’t have to.”

    Your fundamentalism is showing again. Find a reference to back you up. The best ones say there is not sufficient justification for your rule. Yet you are still insisting.

    Another situation that causes difficulty is when adding possessives to names that end in “s.” There seems to be no consensus, but I prefer adding ‘s as adding apostrophe after an “s” (e.g., Chris’s versus Chris’) Although the latter sometimes matches with how it is pronounced (Dickens’s vs Dickens’), the former is more consistent with how words that end in other letters are treated.

    The point here is that when there is no good justification, or when neither option is clearly better than the other, there is no reason to insist on one versus the other.

  33. ccbowers says:

    I see that the name example I mentioned above is addressed in the Oxford link. They have a preference depending on the pronunciation. I don’t find this to be better than adding -‘s, as this rule is simpler and is consistent with non-s ending words. I guess that is why different style guides have differing opinions on this issue.

    But enough with this pendantry(sic). These are pretty minor situations. I just saw an “Employee’s Only” sign.

  34. Steve Cross says:

    Bill Openthalt,

    Good luck arguing with a sixteen year old. Frankly, your best bet is to simply hope that she eventually gets a boyfriend who realizes that the 9/11 truther BS is simply that.

    Since all teenagers believe that all adults (especially parents) are stupid, I don’t think you can ever convince her directly. I suggest the indirect approach. Try to teach her to think logically and skeptically in general. For example, if the opportunity arises naturally on a different topic, point out that ALL sides often have ulterior motives. Therefore, “ulterior motives” by themselves don’t prove anything — you have to look at all of the other evidence too.

    Also, look for opportunities to point out just how hard it is for more than even just one or two people to keep a secret for very long. There are many, many examples in real life. The larger the “conspiracy”, the quicker someone will try to get rich writing a book or perhaps give evidence in exchange for immunity.

    Frankly, just having a full understanding of the above concepts would dramatically reduce the amount of nonsense that anyone could believe. As is often said, common sense isn’t very common, but if these two principles were commonly understood, the world would be better off.

    One final point: EVERYTHING can be found on the Internet, including BOTH sides of any given topic, so it is important to be able to tell what is really true instead of merely sounding true. Help her become aware of the things that she once thought were plausible and believable, but that she later learned to be false after further investigation. The best thing that any teenager (or adult) can learn is that they are not as infallible as they would like to believe.

  35. Pete A says:

    I sincerely hope that celebrating the New Year has finally enabled BillyJoe7 to understand why “12:58am being an earlier time than 11:42am” is NOT the result of a system error that “needs some work done on it.” It is instead, the result of a systematic error — often caused by applying Hitchens’s razor to everyone other than oneself 🙂

  36. Lukas Xavier says:

    Since all teenagers believe that all adults (especially parents) are stupid, I don’t think you can ever convince her directly.

    The reason for that is that adults ARE stupid. The thing is, it’s much easier to recognize other people’s stupidity than it is to be smart yourself. That’s how teenagers can be very skilled at noticing how adults are stupid, yet still be stupid themselves.

    If you want to reach a teenager about such things, I suggest these points:
    1) Listen more than you speak. When you speak, prefer questions over statements.
    2) Never, ever lie, distort or withhold relevant information. If you’re not sure about something, admit it. If you don’t know, say so. Use it as a chance to teach how to research a topic. I.e. “I’m not sure, let’s find out!”
    3) When they call you on your bullshit, that’s a good sign. It means they think you’ll listen to them. Don’t teach them otherwise! You think you don’t have any bullshit? In ten minutes they’ll point out something you’ve missed for twenty years.
    4) If you disagree with them, say so frankly, but don’t get defensive. No matter what kind of stupid shit they say (Really. No matter what!), never belittle them. Instead, default to “why do you think that?”

  37. ccbowers says:

    Despite the reasonable advice given by a few here regarding how to reach/approach Bill’s teenage daughter on the conspiracy thinking, it may be best to point her in a particular direction rather than directly engage.

    Parent/child relationships often carry some baggage (especially at this age), that will interfere with messages being heard (in both directions). Any arguments may come across like a lecture to a child, and once the eyes roll the brain shuts off. On the other side, “knowing” that you are right may prevent you from hearing her perspective.

    Perhaps suggesting a book on the topic or another person to engage will help. Once a person is committed to a certain perspective, it is not realistic to expect the other person to change her mind immediately after you think you “won” an argument.

  38. arnie says:

    And one more thing from this new and improved “Ann Landers advice column” string:

    Don’t ever delude yourself into believing you can do all those things really well every day. Self deception will never cease to some degree, so review every interaction that didn’t go well and keep on learning, The child’s knowing you do that will be rewarded with some nice moments of forgiveness in both directions. (I’m primarily reminding myself of that, of course.)

  39. Willy says:

    I’m not going to wade through and parse every thought here regarding what a 16 year old thinks about 9/11, but I will say this: Since the kid is a good student, and since she has a Dad (and probably a Mom) who is (are) aware and skeptical, she’ll likely be just fine. Good grief, the silly crap I believed or was drawn to as a teenager, and, gee whiz, I’m damned near perfect now (LOL). Kids have to think they are independent and thinking for themselves and nobody–NOBODY–is stupider than a teenagers parent. They will wake up in due time…

    Meantime, I’m not going to fly anymore if the plane skin is thin enough for a bird to peck through it. I’m already worried enough about having my organs compressed and breathing–OMG–nitrogen. I’m gonna go chew on some willow bark.

  40. Willy says:

    One more thought: who is Avril Lavigne?

  41. BillyJoe7 says:

    A pretty good looking girl in her 20s I’d guess. 😉

  42. Bill Openthalt says:

    Folks, thanks a lot for the support and the good advice, in addition to an entertaining discussion on the apostrophe during which everyone did a sterling job minding their P’s and Q’s (or Ps and Qs, or p’s and q’s, or peas and queues, as I once saw in a supermarket add 🙂 ).

    I’ll try (at less delicate times than family dinners) pointing out some of the more obvious errors and provide as much good, solid references on whatever information I give her. The real problem is that rejecting “official” information (i.e. from the manufacturers, or government agencies) is part of the truther mindset, and one has to try and find areas where personal observation of the error is possible (which sounds feasible with the airplane skin strength misinformation).

  43. Bill Openthalt says:

    Oops – that should be “supermarket ad”, of course.

  44. Pete A says:

    An apostrophe catastrophe by The Two Ronnies:

  45. Pete A says:

    Bill O, Just in case any of this is useful to you…

    Kinetic energy Ek = ½ mv². The mass (m) of a Boeing 747 is circa 250,000 kg. A velocity (v) of 100 m/s is 224 mph. Therefore, the kinetic energy of a 747 flying at 224 mph = 0.5 x 250,000 x 100^2 = 1.25 GJ (giga joules). At 448 mph it is 5 GJ, which is the same as the explosive force energy of 1 tonne of TNT — a humungous explosion!

    Jet fuel has a heat energy density of circa 37 MJ per litre. If we assume half-full fuel tanks (100,000 litres), and half of that burnt in the building, the heat energy is nearly 2 TJ (terra joules). Equivalent to the heat energy from 125 tonnes of TNT.

    The only resources I used for the above derivations were: my memory of secondary school science lessons; and the Wikipedia pages on the Boeing 747, energy density, and TNT. Caveat: I hope my calculations are reasonably accurate. Further digging revealed that the minimum skin thickness of a 747 seems to be 1.8 mm, but this is irrelevant to the impact energy and the fuel energy (because the skin itself isn’t what caused the destruction of the buildings).

    The reason that I spent my time writing the above is simply because I have sometimes found it mutually beneficial to show genuine interest in people who have been misguided by the WWW, their peers, and/or their religion/upbringing. Rather than me explaining to them why they are wrong, it can be much more productive to let them explain to me why they are right and I am wrong. This approach allows them to discover for themselves their illusions of explanatory power and explanatory depth[1], regarding the topic being discussed.

    Reference 1: The misunderstood limits of folk science: an illusion of explanatory depth, by Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil

  46. RC says:

    “2) Never, ever lie, distort or withhold relevant information. If you’re not sure about something, admit it. If you don’t know, say so. Use it as a chance to teach how to research a topic. I.e. “I’m not sure, let’s find out!””

    Lukas – I completely agree with you on everything here.

    I think a lot of the teenager distrust comes to the fact that pretty much everything your average parent tells a child before about age 12 is an outright lie. Teenagers are just starting to get to the point where they’re questioning things, and they quickly come to the realization that most adults are very unreliable sources of information.

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