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Annoyed Scientists Publish Study on Chemtrail Conspiracy Theories

Yes, there's a scientific explanation for chemtrails.
Image: Wikimedia Commons; Pixabay

Hey, chemtrail truthers: scientists are tired of your conspiracy theories. So tired, in fact, that they've published a peer-reviewed study telling you how tired they are.

And guess what? While sympathetic to your paranoia, they think your fear-mongering is distracting people from problems that actually need addressing. Like, say, pollution, public health, or the apocalyptic threat of climate change.


"I felt it was important to definitively show what real experts in contrails and aerosols think," said co-author Ken Caldeira, a professor of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, in a statement. "We might not convince die-hard believers that their beloved secret spraying program is just a paranoid fantasy, but hopefully their friends will accept the facts."

Chemtrails, according to the surprisingly-not-Geocities-hosted website "Chemtrails 911," are defined as chemical-laden vapor trails dispersed throughout the sky by covert government operatives. Conspiracy theorists believe the United States is either modifying the weather or committing biowarfare on its citizens. Their proof, they say, is the notion that chemtrails last longer than normal contrails, or those "clouds" you see behind aircraft and rockets.

According to an international study conducted in 2011, approximately 17 percent of people support the existence of a secret large-scale atmospheric program.

Chemtrails or nah? Image: Wikimedia Commons

Much to the annoyance of scientists, chemtrails have been endorsed by a slew of celebrities, including Kylie Jenner, the late musician Prince, Billy Corgan, and Roseanne Barr. Elsewhere in the media, Fox News hosts have occasionally been known to speculate about ominous "poison in the sky."

"We wanted to establish a scientific record on the topic of secret atmospheric spraying programs for the benefit of those in the public who haven't made up their minds," said the study's co-author Steven Davis, an Earth systems scientist at the University of California, Irvine.


"The experts we surveyed resoundingly rejected contrail photographs and test results as evidence of a large-scale atmospheric conspiracy."

The new study—the first of its kind—is a survey of the world's most respected atmospheric scientists, and was published this week in Environmental Research Letters. Participants included atmospheric chemists who know a lot about things like contrails, and geochemists who study the ways chemical structures affect our climate and Earth.

One of questions asked was: "Have you, in your work or personal life, ever come across evidence that you think indicates the existence of a secret large-scale atmospheric spraying program?"

Out of the 77 experts who replied, 76 said they'd never found evidence of a government chemtrails program. (To the one person who said they had: If you're reading this, please email me! Who are you? I'd really love to talk to you. Since this could be a matter of national security, I urge you to use Motherboard's SecureDrop.)

Participants were also shown photos taken from conspiracy sites, and were made to answer two things: Whether they thought the image showed a chemtrail, and what other causes might explain the phenomenon. Lastly, experts were asked to review several material samples that are used as "evidence" of chemtrails among theorists.

What the survey revealed was that, categorically, scientists do not believe that sound evidence of chemtrails exists in academic literature. Furthermore, not a single expert believed that any of the photos revealed a chemtrail.


In regard to the samples, the group of scientists was slightly more divided. Between 80 and 89 percent of respondents said the material samples could not be explained by chemtrails using Occam's razor. Another 39 percent said they would need more information to make any sort of definitive conclusion. Among the experts who did offer an analysis, most said the samples showed pretty normal stuff, like sludge, sediment, and dust.

As for what chemtrails really are, the explanation is quite rational. Most scientists believe that climate change, in addition to changing aircraft technologies, is likely causing vapor trails to persist longer than they used to.

"Despite the persistence of erroneous theories about atmospheric chemical spraying programs, until now there were no peer-reviewed academic studies showing that what some people think are 'chemtrails' are just ordinary contrails, which are becoming more abundant as air travel expands," Caldeira added.

"Also, it is possible that climate change is causing contrails to persist for longer periods than they used to."

So there you have it. Like Sasquatch, the Loch Ness monster, and the color of Donald Trump's flesh, chemtrails are almost certainly not real. But you know what is? Climate change, ocean acidification, and mass extinction. Let's worry about those things, instead.