The next time you ponder those white, cloud-like streaks painted across the sky, remember this newly published paper before disdainfully whispering to yourself, “chemtrails...”
In the first peer-reviewed study of its kind, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the Carnegie Institution for Science found that the world’s leading atmospheric scientists overwhelmingly believe that condensation trails ― known in the scientific community as “contrails” and to conspiracy theorists as “chemtrails” ― are not the product of a government-funded program aimed at covertly spraying chemicals into the atmosphere to control everything from overpopulation to food supply.
Their results were published last week in the journal Environmental Research Letters and provide a much-needed authoritative source on this widespread conspiracy theory, according to Steven J. Davis, study co-author and professor of Earth system science at UCI.
“We’re not trying to change the minds of die-hard chemtrail truthers,” Davis told The Huffington Post.
“There are intelligent people who aren’t convinced one way or the other [regarding the chemtrail conspiracy theory],” he added. “When they go Googling, we don’t want them to just find conspiracy theorists’ websites, we want them to have some scientific perspective.”
The study’s authors believe this is the first peer-reviewed scientific paper that evaluates the claims made by so-called chemtrail truthers and provides proof that most real-life scientists just aren’t buying their theories.
The researchers point out that a 2011 study revealed nearly 17 percent of respondents believed it was at least partly true that streaks in the sky left by aircrafts are actually attempts by the government to secretly spray harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.
To evaluate truthers’ claims, researchers surveyed atmospheric chemists and geochemists to ask if they’d ever encountered evidence that points to secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying programs, which the researchers refer to as SLAP. Of the 77 scientists who answered, all but one said “no.”
The lone researcher who had said “yes” reported observing high levels of barium in an area that typically has low levels of the element in the soil. In a follow-up interview, researchers found that this expert was simply not ruling out the possibility of a covert government operation in the realm of possible explanations (of which there are many), according to Davis.
“It’s pretty loose to say that this person was actually supporting this kind of conspiracy,” Davis told HuffPost. “It was more that they couldn’t exclude it.”
Researchers also asked the experts to provide a scientific explanation for some of the evidence that chemtrail truthers cite to support their theories, including photos of contrails and copies of lab analyses that, theorists argue, show indications of chemical spraying.
“We’ve taken the evidence that [chemtrail truthers] provided on their websites to the best that we could find,” Davis explained. Then, “we had experts weigh in on the simpler explanations for those things.”
The results were pretty conclusive: The surveyed scientists were able to give reasonable scientific explanations for the conspiracy theorists’ evidence.
Davis found it surprising that the experts from different disciplines were able to come up with relatively similar explanations, “considering that we’re asking a big diversity of experts to look at the photos and see what’s going on.”
“The experts were able to look at these photos and come up with pretty straightforward explanations based on chemistry and physics,” he said.
The study’s authors make it clear that they’re well aware this scientific paper will likely do little to discourage chemtrail theorists.
As The New York Times points out, there have been legitimate reasons for atmospheric spraying, like artificially inducing rain via “cloud seeding” and exploring chemical spraying as a way to combat global warming. Still, as this study proves, nearly all scientists surveyed have not observed any evidence of secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying programs.
“We’re not claiming that this definitively debunks the conspiracy theory,” Davis told HuffPost. “Rather, this is just the first step to get something in the scientific record that unconvinced people can Google and find something scientific. There’s plenty more work that can be done on this topic.”
By tackling these chemtrail theories, the researchers hope that people will consider actual scientific opinion ― not just conspiracy theory websites ― and come to their own conclusions. And they hope to inspire the scientific community to do more research to debunk chemtrail claims.
“Our paper would at least begin a scientific record on the topic,” Davis said. “One that we hope others will build upon.”
If you’re still unconvinced, you can find the full study here.