Patently Silly

More Patent Silliness

What is it with conspiracy theorists and US patents?

This meme isn’t going to give you the answers: you have to do your own homework.  We’ll get to that momentarily, but first let’s examine the image.  We see a man in a suit with his head buried in the sand.  We might surmise that this man has discovered a head-sized hold in the sand and is intently examining the hole’s interior, but that’s probably not what the author had in mind.  Burying one’s head in the sand is a metaphor for willfully ignoring signs of potential danger.  It springs from a misconception that ostriches engage in a similar practice when faced with predators.  The threat in this instance must have something to do with the linear clouds crisscrossing the sky above.  Many people will recognize these extruded clouds as airplane contrails, a shortening of condensation trails.  Contrails happen when the hot exhaust of a jet engine, which contains water vapor, meets the super-cold air at high altitudes.  The vapor rapidly condenses into the liquid state, producing reflective clouds.  To the conspiracy-minded, however, these are chemtrails, sprays of chemicals knowingly released by the government for nefarious ends.  Chemtrail theorists argue that chemtrails persist longer than regular contrails, and that they often spread to cover the entire sky.  In fact, the persistence of a contrail has more to do with the humidity of the air in which it was formed, but you’ll never get a chemtrail theorist to believe that.

So what of these mysterious patents?  What danger do they represent?

US Patent 3,813,875 is for a rocket that releases barium vapor into the upper atmosphere for the purpose of creating high-altitude ion clouds.  Well those things certainly sound scary; maybe the government is trying to poison us after all.  But no…further reading of the patent indicates that this invention is intended to increase the efficiency of a technique already used by scientists to study high-altitude wind patterns.  Here’s the idea: scientists launch rockets to high altitudes (but still within Earth’s atmosphere), which then spew out a cloud of super-heated barium ions.  The barium ions produce brilliant colors.  As the ions are blown about by the wind, scientists on the ground can watch and learn how the atmosphere is behaving way up above.

Let’s be clear: barium is potentially harmful to humans, which is why the EPA regulates the amount of barium that can exist in groundwater and other resources that might be consumed by people.  But it’s important to note that barium does not bioaccumulate, meaning that, unlike mercury, barium gets passed out of your body and doesn’t slowly build up to dangerous levels.  Although locally high concentrations of barium have been discovered, these are probably due more to industrial pollution (and in one case, a misunderstanding of units) than to deliberate barium dispersion by shadowy government agencies.  The small amount of barium vaporized by atmospheric study rockets has a minimal impact on local concentrations, since, by design, this barium cloud is strongly scattered and diluted by high-altitude winds before finally settling back to Earth.

US Patent 3,899,144 is for a device that emits titanium dioxide powder for the purpose of scattering light; in other words, it serves to create a more visible contrail.  You might think that a government bent on sickening and/or subjugating its population through the use of sprayed chemicals would try to make their dispersal methods less attention-grabbing, but this invention still finds its way into the “evidence” locker of chemtrail theorists.  This invention was proposed by Donald K. Werle, among others, who also wrote the thrillingly-titled book Further Development of the Rotating Brush Aerosol Seperator.  The text in this patent application is every bit as dense as you might expect, so I turned to other sources to break it down.

Apparently this invention emits a highly-visible trail from the rear of a towed target, according to Mick West writing in  See, the military needs flying targets to shoot at, but they can’t shoot at piloted aircraft for hopefully obvious reasons.  Self-powered drones emit smoke via oil heated by the engine, but towed targets don’t have an engine.  This invention is meant to simulate the appearance of a contrail without the necessity of the aircraft part that produces the contrail.

US Patent 5,003,186 is a proposed solution to global warming.  Global warming happens when so-called greenhouse gases – notably carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane – trap infrared radiation close to Earth’s surface and cause the planet’s temperature to rise.  In some ways, this greenhouse effect is good for us; it keeps the planet’s surface warm enough for liquid water to exist.  Too much of a good thing can be harmful, however.  The artificial increase in greenhouse gases caused by human activities is driving the planet’s average temperature even higher.  An increase in the globe’s average surface temperature can lead to potentially devastating effects, including but not limited to: rising sea level and the flooding of coastal communities; more intense and/or frequent tropical storms; disruption of agriculture in many key areas; spread of disease; etc.

This patent claims to forestall the negative consequences of anthropogenic global warming by seeding the atmosphere with metal oxide microparticles that can absorb and re-radiate the trapped infrared radiation into outer space.  It’s an interesting concept, but I’m skeptical that it would actually work.  As far as I know, nobody’s actually using this technique at the moment, which means that the existence of the patent doesn’t establish the existence of chemtrails.

The next time you see a meme that lists a patent number, as if that’s proof of anything, consider these four important points:

  1. Just because a patent has been granted doesn’t mean the invention was ever actually built or used. Ideas can be patented as well.
  2. Just because a patent has been granted doesn’t mean the invention actually works.
  3. Just because a patented invention could be used for something nefarious doesn’t mean it absolutely must be.
  4. Governments that are trying to murder-death-kill their own citizens don’t place the patents for their evil inventions on publicly-accessible websites.

Before we part, let’s discuss House Resolution 2977.  This bill seeks to preserve the peaceful use of outer space for all mankind by preventing the deployment of a space-based weapon system.  Section 7, part 2A defines what is meant by “weapons” and “weapon systems”, and part 2B defines several “exotic” weapon systems, including – ominous chord please – chemtrails!

Is the House of Representatives openly acknowledging the existence of chemtrails as a potential weapon system?  Well, not exactly.  If you read the rest of part 2B, the Resolution also mentions psychotronic weapons (sci-fi devices using electronic transmissions to control human brains), extraterrestrial weapons, and tectonic weapons.  In other words, this particular section of the Resolution deals with what Michio Kaku would call Class I Impossibilities: technologies that don’t currently exist, but which might exist in the next few decades or centuries.  Clearly the authors of HR 2977 were trying to cover all the bases, even those that seemed far-flung.  The inclusion of chemtrails in a bit of Congressional legislation is not an implicit acknowledgement of the reality of chemtrails, only an attempt to say that chemtrails should never be used, in the same way that an alien death ray should never be used, in case we recover one from a crashed spaceship.

If it weren’t so frustrating, I would find it humorous that this meme was labeled by a group that calls themselves the Skeptic Society (a name I believe is intentionally similar to the Skeptics Society & Skeptic Magazine)  A few moments spent on the Skeptic Society’s Facebook page tells me this much: they are not skeptics.  Skeptics are people who reserve judgement on a claim or idea until they have heard the available evidence.  Chemtrail theorists and their ilk are not skeptics, because they’ve already passed judgement and are desperately seeking evidence that justifies their claims.  In many ways, chemtrail theorists are kith and kin with Creationists, Moon Hoax theorists, global warming deniers, flat earthers, 9/11 truthers, Obama birthers, and lots of other people who have voluntarily let go of reality.  These people display a public disdain for the official account of any event or phenomenon.  No, they indefatigably pursue their pet theories – the ones that make them feel smarter than 99% of the population.  Their cry is “Wake up!” which is extremely ironic because it is they – the conspiracy theorists and reality deniers – who have chosen not to see the evidence, unless it can be contorted in such a way as to loosely confirm that which they already believe.  It is they who live in a dream world.  Nothing these people do is suggestive of real scientific skepticism, and it pains me that they assume that mantle.

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