When I first starting seeing items online and in social media about plastic snow, I didn’t pay much attention. I love The Onion as much as the next guy but I rarely find the time to read much more than a lead story or three in any given week.
But then last week I was speaking with a friend who lives in the frozen North of the U.S., and she mentioned the stories about plastic snow in the Southeast. And I do confess that it was a revelation to me that claims that Georgia was being hit by fake plastic snowfall were not being written by comedy writers, but rather were being made and taken seriously by modern individuals known to be of the species Homo sapiens.
Even this skeptic gets surprised now and then by what people can believe. And I suppose this is particularly true when it comes to conspiracy theories, which I tend to find pretty uninteresting. Skeptics – and scientists – are concerned with evidence, and conspiracy theories tend to be constructed on foundations of lack of evidence, or more typically, spaces in the evidence. No real-world evidence trail is ever perfectly complete, there will always be a space that can be filled in with extraordinary explanations for ordinary claims, once you forcibly commit to a denial of Occam’s Razor. Once the most complicated explanation becomes the preference, and the simplest explanation dismissed as a fool’s delusion, then nothing on earth will shake the conspiracy theorist from his or her extraordinary beliefs.
But that doesn’t mean such beliefs don’t occasionally make me sit down heavily and shake my head in dubious wonder.
Here are just a few samples of the plastic snow conspiracy theory…
The fake snow is “frozen poison organisms”:
The fake snow is nanobots (along with a sincere caution that whatever you do, don’t make “snow cream!”):
And this might be my favorite -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZvRSKLsFlI -- if only for this image that shows up at the 12:58 mark:
As the lawyers say, res ipso loquitur. The thing speaks for itself.
Or as the lawyers also say: Don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. And I think we can figure out the answer to this one.
Anyway … dare I trouble to mention that the explanations of why the snow “doesn’t melt” and “turns black” and “smells like plastic” can be obtained in a matter of seconds with a simple Google search? As soon as I started watching these videos, I thought, “Hasn’t anybody tried just melting the snow in a pan and see what happens?”
Sure enough, future Nobel Prize-winner in physics, someone dubbing herself “The Barefoot Guru,” mentions in this video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhRJPHY8u6s – that “we did put some on the kerosene heater yesterday in a pot and it did melt.” Of course the next word is “but…” and, well, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Or in this case, a ludicrous story.
For the record, the snow is actually melting, but the airy structure of snow wicks away the water; the black stuff is soot from the lighter, which also provides the smell. This is not rocket surgery.
The problem with conspiracy theories is, like so many paranormal beliefs, they arise not actually from rational inquiry (despite the believers’ insistence to the contrary) but rather from worldview. We often don’t really believe what we choose to believe; we believe what we need to believe (and then fill in the “evidence” after the belief has long fossilized.
I do know one thing for certain about snow, which I learned from Frank Zappa: Watch out where the huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow!
Jamy Ian Swiss is Senior Fellow at the JREF. He blogs regularly at randi.org.