Mick West

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Mick West
Mick West CSICon 2018 Debunking 9-11 Microsphere Myths.jpg
West speaking at CSICon in 2018
NationalityBritish
American
Alma mater University of Manchester
Known forDebunking chemtrails and other conspiracy theories
AwardsCommittee for Skeptical Inquiry fellow
Website
Notes

Mick West is a British-American science writer, skeptical investigator, and retired video game programmer. He is the creator of the websites Contrail Science and Metabunk, and he investigates and debunks pseudoscientific claims and conspiracy theories such as chemtrails and UFOs. His first book is Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect.

Contents

West has appeared in various media including CBS, the BBC, CNN, Radio New Zealand and Scientific American as an expert conspiracy analyst and science communicator. He has twice been a speaker at the conference of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and in 2020 was elected a fellow of the organization.

Early life

West grew up in the small town of Bingley, on the outskirts of Bradford, England. As a child he was fascinated by the paranormal, UFOs and stories of alien abductions, also believing he had psychic abilities. As he grew older, he came to believe that these phenomena weren't real, and instead, that there were rational explanations to explain them. [1] "I used to believe in all this stuff and then I stopped believing in all this stuff, and I guess just figuring out why this stuff was wrong became interesting to me." [2] In early adulthood, West found himself using a pre-internet, modem-based bulletin board called FidoNet to argue with people who were using it to spread conspiracy theories. [2]

Video game programming career

West co-founded the video game development company Neversoft Entertainment in July 1994 with Joel Jewett and Chris Ward. Neversoft is known for the Spider-Man , Tony Hawk's , and Guitar Hero video game franchises, and West was heavily involved in programming the first five games of the Tony Hawk's series. [2] The company was acquired by Activision in October 1999. [3]

Skepticism career

In 2003, after resigning from Neversoft, West's interest in debunking took hold. "I retired, I had lots of spare time, I didn't have vast other interests that I was pursuing, and so I was able to focus on these things. I could focus on Morgellons, and I wrote like a hundred little articles on Morgellons. Because I have this background in video game programming and debugging and investigating things, I was able to do fairly deep technical investigations of things." [2]

West now attempts to interact with his interviewees and his audience on his various media with empathy to help them see reality. These people, he says, see a different version of reality: "They prefer the one where the government is evil. Now, it doesn't mean the government isn't evil, it doesn't mean that people in power aren't corrupt, it doesn't mean politicians aren't corrupt, but it also doesn't mean that they planted bombs in the World Trade Center. Just because politicians are corrupt, it doesn't necessarily follow the World Trade Center was a controlled demolition." [2]

Websites

West became interested in the chemtrail conspiracy theory while studying aviation weather for his pilot’s license. He created the website “Contrail Science” with the aim of explaining contrails and debunking chemtrail theories. He believed initially that he could explain and debunk these theories quite quickly, but they were more resilient than he’d anticipated: he has now spent more than 10 years covering the topic. [4]

The discussion on the “Contrail Science” website eventually expanded to include other conspiracy theories, including that of 9/11. So West decided to create another website, “Metabunk”, to expand the discussion to other alternative beliefs. Metabunk covers such topics as pseudoscience, UFOs and the paranormal. The website also includes a forum, “Skydentify”, where West invites people to send photos and videos of UFOs and supposed ghosts. He analyses these using his background in video game programming and Photoshop, and then he and other forum members attempt to explain what the photos and videos are actually depicting. They also discuss the best way to communicate the results of their debunking investigations. [5] Analysis from West and other experts on Metabunk has been cited in generalist publications. [6] [7] [8]

West describes the objective of his work as attempting to get people out of the “rabbit hole” of conspiratorial thinking. “Chemtrails is a surprisingly popular theory; it’s right up there with things like the 9/11 conspiracy theories,” he says. “It all stems from a fundamental distrust of science and authority. You are always going to get a percentage of people who are true believers. My goal is to minimize that as much as possible, stop people falling for it, and help them get out as easily as possible.” [9]

He also created the online forum morgellonswatch.com to dispel the myths and misinformation surrounding the unconfirmed skin condition, Morgellons. [10]

Academic work

In August 2016, West co-authored a paper with climate scientists Ken Caldeira, Christine Shearer, and Steven J. Davis published in the journal Environmental Research Letters titled Quantifying expert consensus against the existence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program (SLAP). The objective of the paper was to produce a peer-reviewed expert response to the chemtrail theory. The authors surveyed experts on atmospheric chemistry and deposition to scientifically evaluate the claims of chemtrail conspiracy theorists. Upon publication, it was recognized as the first study by a major science organization on the topic. [11] Its conclusion reported that “76 out of 77 (98.7%) scientists that took part in this study said there was no evidence of a SLAP, and that the data cited as evidence could be explained through other factors, such as typical contrail formation and poor data sampling instructions presented on SLAP websites” [12] Data science company Altmetric rated the paper in the top 5% of all research in terms of interest generated and it has been cited many times by scientific publications and news outlets. [13] This included the New York Times, where West said the new study should help sway people who might otherwise be convinced by a chemtrails website. “You’re trying to hold back the tide to a certain degree, and hopefully have less people fall into that way of thinking.” [14]

Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

West in 2018 Mick West.jpg
West in 2018

West has written several articles for the Skeptical Inquirer , the journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, (CSI), including “Curated Crowdsourcing in UFO Investigations”, “In Defense of Debunkers”, and "UFOs Come Out of the Shadows. Again. Perhaps." [15]

In 2016, West delivered a Sunday Papers presentation at the annual conference of CSI, CSICon, titled “Expert Elicitation vs. Chemtrails” in which he discussed his 2016 scientific paper on climate engineering. [9] In 2018, West again spoke at CSICon, this time as a featured speaker on the subject of debunking a 9-11 conspiracy theory involving microspheres. [16]

In 2020, West became a fellow of CSI. [17]

Escaping the Rabbit Hole

In 2018, West authored Escaping the Rabbit Hole. How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect with the goal of helping people understand and explain conspiracy theories, and then pass those explanations onto others. In a review of the book, British actor Stephen Fry wrote “Mick West demonstrates with exquisite style, wit, and insight how those three rare and valuable species, Fact, Logic and Respect (each now on the very brink of extinction) have in harness the power to shine light into darkness and dispel the miasma of bias, superstition and balefully proud ignorance that is threatening to poison our age." [18] An extended excerpt from this book was published in Salon. [19] The book was featured in an analysis released by the University of McGill Office for Science and Society in 2018. [20] Celestia Ward points out that "Debunking conspiracy theories is a lot of work. But it's worthwhile if you are helping a loved one out of a mindset that can cause them harm. Mick West has shouldered a tremendous amount of the work himself, summarizing some conspiracy beliefs and demonstrable facts to refute those beliefs..." [21]

Tales from the Rabbit Hole

West started a podcast in April 2019, Tales from the Rabbit Hole, in which he interviews "conspiracy culture" guests. [22]

Media coverage

West has been cited by a variety of media as an expert analyst on chemtrails, UFOs, and other conspiracy theories. [23] [24] [25] [26] [27]

In 2010, West appeared on the CBS evening news and KPCC radio news to comment on a viral video of what appeared to be a "mystery" missile launch. [23] [24]

In 2013, West appeared in the documentary film "Overcast” as a rebuttal to promoters of chemtrail conspiracy theories. [25] [26]

In September 2016, Radio New Zealand profiled West as a science writer and someone who “is dedicated to the art of debunking wild theories that circulate online and helping other people do the same, with his website, Metabunk.” In the interview he described how his passion for debunking comes from a concern that real problems are being ignored because science is ignored. In particular he talked about the harm conspiracy theorists can cause when they accuse the families of victims of gun massacres as being crisis actors. He also explained that when “dealing with conspiracy theorists the best thing is to be polite. You’ve got to be a kind of gentleman scientist. If people are polite then you will get listened to. Never misrepresent yourself, never lie, never fake evidence, never indulge in hoaxes. You’ve got to be 100% beyond reproach at all times.” [28]

In May 2020, Susan Gerbic of the About Time Project interviewed West regarding how people fall into the "rabbit hole" of conspiracy theories, and discussed ideas for helping friends and family come to reality. [29]

In late December 2020, West was one of the experts quoted in a BBC article regarding suggestions for talking to friends and relatives who believe in conspiracy theories. West said "My number one rule would be to not spoil Christmas...An angry, heated conversation will leave everyone feeling rubbish and further cement conspiracy beliefs." [30]

In May 2021, West was a guest on the CNN show Cuomo Prime Time where he provided his explanations for three recent high profile UAV videos made by US Navy personnel. In each case West demonstrated that simple misinterpretations and video artifacts were likely explanations of the peculiar attributes of the recorded objects. [27] :32:20

West has made a number of appearances on podcasts discussing his life and debunking career. These include being interviewed by Richard Saunders on the Skeptic Zone, [5] Benjamin Radford on Squaring the Strange, [10] and on Something You Should Know. [31] He has also made several appearances on the Joe Rogan Experience to discuss various conspiracy theories. [32]

In June 2021, in advance of the release of the Pentagon UAP Task Force's report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, West was interviewed in Scientific American as an expert analyst of the video evidence. Regarding the report, West said, "I expect much discussion and information about the real issues of unidentified flying objects. But I do not anticipate it will have much that will please the UFO enthusiasts." [33]

Citizenship

West was raised in England, [17] attending the University of Manchester, [34] but in 2009 he became a citizen of the United States. He documented the naturalization process in detail on his website. [35] [36] As of 2020, West was a resident of Sacramento, California. [17]

Bibliography

Podcast

Related Research Articles

Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), formerly known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), is a program within the transnational American non-profit educational organization Center for Inquiry (CFI), which seeks to "promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims." Paul Kurtz proposed the establishment of CSICOP in 1976 as an independent non-profit organization, to counter what he regarded as an uncritical acceptance of, and support for, paranormal claims by both the media and society in general. Its philosophical position is one of scientific skepticism. CSI's fellows have included notable scientists, Nobel laureates, philosophers, psychologists, educators and authors. It is headquartered in Amherst, New York.

Skeptical Inquirer is a bimonthly American general-audience magazine published by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) with the subtitle: The Magazine for Science and Reason. In 2016 it celebrated its fortieth anniversary. For most of its existence, the Skeptical Inquirer (SI) was published by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, widely known by its acronym CSICOP. In 2006 the CSICOP Executive Council shortened CSICOP's name to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and broadened its mission statement.

The skeptical movement is a modern social movement based on the idea of scientific skepticism. Scientific skepticism involves the application of skeptical philosophy, critical-thinking skills, and knowledge of science and its methods to empirical claims, while remaining agnostic or neutral to non-empirical claims. The movement has the goal of investigating claims made on fringe topics and determining whether they are supported by empirical research and are reproducible, as part of a methodological norm pursuing "the extension of certified knowledge". The process followed is sometimes referred to as skeptical inquiry.

Roswell incident Supposed flying saucer crash in the U.S., 1947

The Roswell incident refers to the July 1947 crash of a United States Army Air Forces balloon at a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, as well as the subsequent conspiracy theories that claim the crash was actually that of a flying saucer, and that the truth was covered up by the US government. On July 8, 1947, Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release stating that they had recovered a "flying disc" from a ranch near Roswell. The Army quickly retracted the statement and instead said that the crashed object was merely a conventional weather balloon.

Chemtrail conspiracy theory Conspiracy theory about contrails

The chemtrail conspiracy theory posits the erroneous belief that long-lasting condensation trails are "chemtrails" consisting of chemical or biological agents left in the sky by high-flying aircraft, sprayed for nefarious purposes undisclosed to the general public. Believers in this conspiracy theory say that while normal contrails dissipate relatively quickly, contrails that linger must contain additional substances. Those who subscribe to the theory speculate that the purpose of the chemical release may be solar radiation management, weather modification, psychological manipulation, human population control, biological or chemical warfare, or testing of biological or chemical agents on a population, and that the trails are causing respiratory illnesses and other health problems.

A debunker is a person or organization that exposes or discredits claims believed to be false, exaggerated, or pretentious. The term is often associated with skeptical investigation of controversial topics such as UFOs, claimed paranormal phenomena, cryptids, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine, religion, or exploratory or fringe areas of scientific or pseudoscientific research.

<i>Skeptic</i> (U.S. magazine)

Skeptic, colloquially known as Skeptic magazine, is a quarterly science education and science advocacy magazine published internationally by The Skeptics Society, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting scientific skepticism and resisting the spread of pseudoscience, superstition, and irrational beliefs. Founded by Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society, the magazine was first published in the spring of 1992 and is published through Millennium Press. Shermer remains the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine and the magazine’s Co-publisher and Art Director is Pat Linse. Other noteworthy members of its editorial board include, or have included, Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond, magician and escape artist turned educator James “The Amazing” Randi, actor, comedian, and Saturday Night Live alumna Julia Sweeney, professional mentalist Mark Edward, science writer Daniel Loxton, Lawrence M. Krauss and Christof Koch. Skeptic has an international circulation with over 50,000 subscriptions and is on newsstands in the U.S. and Canada as well as Europe, Australia, and other countries.

James Oberg Expert on space flight

James Edward Oberg, often known as Jim Oberg, is an American space journalist and historian, regarded as an expert on the Russian and Chinese space programs. He had a 22-year career as a space engineer in NASA specializing in orbital rendezvous. Oberg is an author of ten books and more than a thousand articles on space flight. He gave many explanations of UFO phenomena in the popular press. He is also a consultant in spaceflight operations and safety.

Philip J. Klass UFO researcher

Philip Julian Klass was an American journalist, and UFO researcher, known for his skepticism regarding UFOs. In the ufological and skeptical communities, Klass inspires polarized appraisals. He has been called the "Sherlock Holmes of UFOlogy". Klass demonstrated "the crusader's zeal for what seems 'right,' regardless of whether it brings popular acclaim," a trait he claimed his father instilled in him. "I've found," said Klass, "that roughly 97, 98 percent of the people who report seeing UFOs are fundamentally intelligent, honest people who have seen something—usually at night, in darkness—that is unfamiliar, that they cannot explain." The rest, he said, were frauds.

Dave Thomas (skeptic)

David E. Thomas is a scientist and software engineer best known for his scientific skepticism research and writings. He is a graduate of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and his skeptic work covers the Roswell and Aztec UFO sightings, the Bible code, global warming, the 9/11 Truth movement and chemtrails. Thomas is frequently published in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Robert Sheaffer American writer

Robert Sheaffer is an American freelance writer and UFO skeptic. He is a paranormal investigator of unidentified flying objects, having researched many sightings and written critiques of the hypothesis that UFOs are alien spacecraft. In addition to UFOs, his writings cover topics such as Christianity, academic feminism, the scientific theory of evolution, and creationism. He is the author of six books.

Steven Novella American neurologist, professor and skeptic (born 1964)

Steven Paul Novella is an American clinical neurologist and assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine. Novella is best known for his involvement in the skeptical movement. He is also a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and GWUP.

<i>The Skeptics Guide to the Universe</i> Weekly podcast

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe (SGU) is a weekly podcast hosted by Steven Novella, MD, along with a panel of "skeptical rogues." It is named to evoke The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and is the official podcast of the New England Skeptical Society. The show features discussions of recent scientific developments in layman's terms, and interviews authors, people in the area of science, and other famous skeptics. The show also includes discussions of myths, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, the paranormal, and many general forms of superstition, from the point of view of scientific skepticism. Steven Novella has been particularly active in debunking pseudoscience in medicine. His activities include opposing the claims of anti-vaccine activists, homeopathy practitioners and individuals denying the link between HIV and AIDS.

This is a list of alleged UFO sightings in the United States.

Donald Prothero American paleontologist, geologist, and author

Donald Ross Prothero is an American geologist, paleontologist, and author who specializes in mammalian paleontology and magnetostratigraphy, a technique to date rock layers of the Cenozoic era and its use to date the climate changes which occurred 30-40 million years ago. He is the author or editor of more than 30 books and over 300 scientific papers, including at least 5 geology textbooks.

Susan Gerbic American skepticism activist

Susan Gerbic is an American studio photographer who became known as a scientific skepticism activist, mostly for exposing people claiming to be mediums. A columnist for Skeptical Inquirer, she is the co-founder of Monterey County Skeptics and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

CSICon

CSICon or CSIConference is an annual skeptical conference typically held in the United States. CSICon is hosted by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), which is a program of the Center for Inquiry (CFI). CSI publishes Skeptical Inquirer, subtitled The Magazine for Science and Reason.

Holm Gero Hümmler

Holm Gero Hümmler is a German nuclear physicist and skeptic, living in Bad Homburg, near Frankfurt am Main.

Pentagon UFO videos Cockpit instrumentation display videos from US Navy jets, widely publicized as UFOs

The Pentagon UFO videos are selected visual recordings of cockpit instrumentation displays from United States Navy fighter jets based aboard aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2004, 2014 and 2015 with additional footage taken by other Navy personnel in 2019. The three grainy, black and white videos, widely characterized as officially documenting UFOs, were the subject of extensive coverage in the media in 2017. The Pentagon later addressed and officially released the first three videos in 2020, and confirmed the provenance of the leaked 2019 videos in two statements made in 2021.

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