• Occam’s Razor and the Non-Bermuda Triangle

    This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the undergraduate and graduate students in my Science vs. Pseudoscience course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Pseudoscience.” To that end, each student has to prepare a 1,000ish word post on a particular pseudoscience topic, as well as run a booth on-campus to help reach people physically about the topic.

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    Occam’s Razor and the Non-Bermuda Triangle by Christina Smith

    Occam’s razor (sometimes referred to as the principle of parsimony) is a scientific problem solving technique put forth by philosopher William of Ockham. It is used to explain unusual and bizarre observations in a much more simple and effective way. It posits that the most accurate and logical explanation for an event or mystery is most likely the simpler one, meaning an explanation which requires fewer underlying assumptions. Occam’s razor can be applied to the Bermuda Triangle and the illogical claims behind the mystery to produce much more accurate and scientific explanations.

    Bermuda Triangle by Ibriam

    The Bermuda Triangle (sometimes referred to as The Devil’s Triangle) is an infamous triangular location in the Atlantic Ocean encompassing a large area (roughly 500,000 square miles) between the southern tip of Florida and between the islands of Bermuda and Puerto Rico. This area has been said to be the site of many disappearance of planes, ships, people, and underwater vessels. The area became known in mid-1940’s during World War II when five US Naval planes disappeared during a training exercise. Since then, several other planes and ships seemed to have gone missing in the area without explanation. The Bermuda Triangle began receiving worldwide attention when the media grabbed a hold of it in the 1960’s and 1970’s each time something or someone became lost in the area.

    The disappearances have been attributed to several types of pseudoscience phenomena. First, let’s start with UFO’s and evil extraterrestrials. One theory believes that a UFO crashed here and then set up camp underwater to suck in anything and anyone who passes over in order to conduct tests. The other one is that there is a space-time gap resulting from UFO activity and communication with Earth. If a boat passes through at the wrong time, it will pass through this space-time continuum, and gets taken by who the hell knows what or where…awesome. Another favorite pseudoscience belief lies within the lost city of Atlantis. According to this theory involving Atlantis, the inhabitants derived their energy from crystals and the energy of these super powerful crystals is apparently so strong that boats and people are being sucked into the ocean. Some other beliefs regarding disappearances in the area include malicious humans with anti-gravitational devices, fourth dimension vile vortices, and crazy compasses with a mind of their own. The ships, planes, and people have never been found so what else could it be? Perhaps there are much simpler and more rational explanations for the disappearances.

    The Bermuda Triangle is one of the busiest commercial and shipping areas in the world with planes and ships  passing through numerous times per day. By this information alone, the event of a plane crashing or boat sinking isn’t all that far-fetched. In fact, the disappearance rate in the Bermuda Triangle is not significantly higher and actually is considered to be “normal” – meaning it corresponds proportionally to other commercial areas across the world. At times, the disappearance rate was actually shown to be lower than the surrounding areas. Also, there is no consensual agreement about the exact geographic boundaries that make up the Triangle, which therefore makes some of the disappearances not even associated with the region at all.

    A very popular scientific explanation hypothesizes that the disappearances are most likely the result of harsh weather. The Bermuda Triangle is conveniently located in the heart of hurricane country in the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean is already a largely unpredictable and dangerous place, without adding in torrential rainstorms and high wind speeds to the equation. If a plane were to crash or a ship were to sink because it could not withstand the ocean forces, then all evidence can easily be swallowed up and never accounted for. In fact, only 5-10% of the entire world’s ocean waters has been explored so I think that humankind has a ways to go before we start accusing innocent aliens for abducting our planes and ships.

    Another plausible cause for these disappearances is the emission of methane gas deposits from the ocean floor. There are concentrations of trapped gas that float to the surface when released and make the water underneath a ship less dense and unable to support it. These events have been known to have sunken oil drillings rigs in the past. This theory is actually the least popular scientific one, but, it is still a much more sensible explanation compared to those involving paranormal activity.

    However, there are of course a few “human error” explanations. Nobody is perfect, people can be dumb, and even the most trained captains and pilots make mistakes and incompetent navigation decisions. Also, most of the disappearances and crashes happened well before advanced modern technology, which could account for a few things such as directional compass and communication failure. In fact, the disappearance rate has gone down significantly and appears to correlate to the increase of technology advancement.   Additionally, the Bermuda Triangle is a rather large area and if one gets lost trying to navigate the waters, there is a good chance that a carrier could run out of fuel at some point. There has also been speculation about explosive cargoes on some of the ships and if one possibly detonated, then unfortunately there wouldn’t be a lot of evidence to search for.

    Additionally, there are human errors happening on land as well. There have been known instances of stories about some of the disappearances changing significantly from source to source. People tend to manipulate and twist initial facts into more interesting and irrational explanations just to liven up the story (remember the telephone game?!). There have been cases of disappearances attributed to the Triangle that did not even happen within the region – not even close. There have also been “disappearances” when a ship just accidentally got re-routed only to turn up still intact at a different port. However, people still continued to claim the loss of the vessel regardless. Furthermore, some disappearances were documented as occurring during “calm and clear weather” when in fact, turned out to not to correspond with what was written in the weather reports when these claims were investigated by skeptics. These same claims often included in the reports that “strange, alien-like” noises were heard across the radio transmitter just before losing contact with the ship. Radios are more than capable of making strange and unusual noises due to airwave static. People hear the phrase “strange noises” and all of a sudden it is known as paranormal communication.

    Stories about the Bermuda Triangle only became more exaggerated and elaborate with each additional disappearance. These stories, however, can be whittled down to much more rational explanations via Occam’s razor. People want to believe in the magic and the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. They want to think that the plane and ship disappearances are the work of pseudoscientific phenomena. However, these explanations require extraneous details that cannot be scientifically proven or even rationally explained. While the thought of alien abduction or the long lost civilization of Atlantis seems fun, there is an abundance of simpler and more logically sound explanations in regards to the disappearances within the Bermuda Triangle.

    Category: ConspiracyPseudoscienceScienceSkepticismTeaching

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    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com
    • ke Liu

      there are a lot of discussion regarding The Bermuda Triangle, and other parts of the world also, that the mysterious phenomenon which caused accident. However, people want to believe “magic” rather than scientific explanation.

    • Kaitie McElroy

      This was a fun and informative post. I remember hearing stories about the Bermuda triangle when I was young from friends and seeing crazy headlines on tabloids. In my head the only thing I could visualize was that the phenomenon was literally a triangle that if entered caused you to disappear. Even when I was very little it was very hard to reconcile that image with the real world.
      I really liked how you laid out all the scientifically possible explanations, it was interesting that the disappearance rate was on par with that of other shipping lanes. I figured that maybe since the story was so ingrained in folklore that maybe there could be a grain of truth in the fact a greater number of ships and planes disappeared in that area due to weather. But now it sounds like even the disappearance rates were fabricated!

    • J. Kyle Haws

      I really enjoyed your post! To be honest, I used to believe that disappearances in the triangle were the result of paranormal phenomenon. This belief was heavily influenced by my grandfather who had some pretty crazy theories about the earth being hollow and filled with aliens. He believed that aliens would travel to the surface at the north and south pole and at the bermuda triangle. I really thought these beliefs could have been true since my wise, loving, and all knowing grandpa (bless his heart) believed in this nonsense.

    • XxLR_JORDANxX

      Very nice summation of the BT “phenomenon” and why it isn’t actually mysterious at all. This article demonstrates William of Occam’s principle of “do not multiply causes unnecessarily” nicely by pointing out that just a bit of rational, critical thinking can lead to far more satisfying and probable explanations than “unknown aliens did it” or “lost technology from Atlantis is the cause.”

    • jordannpyle

      I think we have all heard about the Bermuda triangle and it’s mystery time and time again but I never really knew all the conspiracy theories that came along with it. Aliens? Really people? I had no idea that was one of the bigger theories until I read your post. I honestly always thought there was something strange about the Bermuda triangle (I never planned on heading that way) but I always chopped it up bad weather when things disappeared. I like how you pointed out the majority of the Berumda’s fame came before the time of modern technology. That makes a lot more sense when you look at the time period when most planes/ships/people disappeared. This post was great, however, it makes me a little said because this was one of the few phenomenons I wish were true. Good job!

    • CodyB

      I find it funny that so many people can whole-heartedly agree that there is some large-scale, mysterious, supernatural reason for the disappearance of airplanes and boats and they all have completely different explanations. If there was one prevailing thought that was shared by all Bermuda Triangle believers, I would be more likely to give them a chance to persuade me. As it stands, I will continue as a non-believer (but still avoid the area just to be on the safe side!)

    • CatherineD

      This is really great. It’s interesting to think that we have to come up with elaborate reasons to explain accidents that happen, rather than admitting that we, as a human race, are imperfect. It would be awesome if Atlantis really was there though!

    • Kylerdean

      It’s interesting that these disappearances have dwindled because of further advancement in technology, but people still want to believe in these fantasies. As you stated in your post, people like the thought of abduction from paranormal aliens, so they are going to believe and repeat stories because they find them fascinating. I think that the “unknown” gives people the opportunity to believe these farfetched ideas regardless if there is not scientific evidence to prove otherwise.

    • hellokitty69

      It’s so bizarre that in people living in the era of the best technology and with the most knowledge can still cling to such nonsensical explanations. They seem intent on abandoning Occam’s Razor at all costs. It’s been common knowledge for centuries that the ocean is a dangerous place to travel, so why wouldn’t the weather be the prime suspect? I do like the idea that escaping methane was considered a possibility. Editor-in-Chief: “Okay, boys, let’s hear some titles.” Editor #1: “How about, ‘All is Lost: The Amelia Earhart Story.” Editor #2: “The Plane Truth: Earhart was Swallowed by Earth Farts.”

    • Lauren Gaudreau

      I didn’t know much about this topic before seeing your booth and reading this post- very informative. I wonder if uneducated people who don’t understand the science and research behind this blamed the recent plane disappearances on this?

    • Scott Sims

      This is kind of how people are terrified to fly, even though statistically they have a much higher chance of something bad happening in a car accident. Its all about availability (and media exposure). It’s really interesting that the disappearance rate is normal or even below that though. I did not know that. Besides, how could it be aliens when they are living in Mount Baldy after the collapse of their civilization on Mars?

    • Amanda Beck

      I’ve heard many stories about the Triangle without any explanation, so your post was definitely appreciated. I remember being afraid of it as a child (it was often depicted in cartoons and books) and wondering why anyone would ever want to go near it. Now with years of maturity under my belt, it’s rather obvious. There’s nothing special about the Bermuda Triangle. One aspect that’s interesting to me though is in regards to those that do believe. If a person does believe that the triangle is haunted or cursed or riddled with aliens, would that perhaps make them more susceptible to becoming lost (self-fulfilling prophecy)? Just a thought.

    • OklahomaTrey

      I love that someone made this a topic, thank you for having a keen eye towards the unique and experiencing your opinions. I think the strength of this article can be expressed by highlighting two points made. First, that this is a major shipping lane for the world, and as a result, it will have a higher concentration of traffic, creating higher numbers, think of the I-44/2-35 bottle neck in OKC. Second, was the point over weather. This area find itself in a high amount of developing and experiencing developed hurricanes and violent tropical weather. This increases any problems with navigation of the vesicles moving through the area.

    • Carrie Tubbs

      I really like this post because it is not something you hear people debating about all of the time. Reading this reminds me about crop circle discussions in class. People believed these were the UFOs making designs in these areas, yet it was just a couple of jokesters. But that obviously not being the only thing, has anyone ever though about how much we blame and read stories about UFOs? Certain things could actually be attributed to scientific causes:)