Sunday, July 3, 2022

"What’s behind the apparent rash of fires at U.S. food-processing facilities?"

The author of this piece, James B. Meigs has some experience with conspiracy theories and conspiracists. He was Editor-in-Chief of Popular Mechanics and on October 13, 2006 wrote:

On February 7, 2005, I became a member of the Bush/Halliburton/Zionist/CIA/New World Order/ Illuminati conspiracy for global domination. It was on that day the March 2005 issue of Popular Mechanics, with its cover story debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, hit newsstands. Within hours, the online community of 9/11 conspiracy buffs--which calls itself the "9/11 Truth Movement"--was aflame with wild fantasies about me and my staff, the magazine I edit, and the article we had published.....

....MUCH MORE. The cover story link is also interesting if you missed the article the first time around.

And from City-Journal, June 29:

Smoke and Mirrors 

Is America’s food industry being sabotaged? Consumers got a sense that our food-supply chains might be fragile when Covid-19 outbreaks shut down several meatpacking plants in the spring of 2020. Supermarket meat coolers were thinly stocked for weeks. In 2021, some observers began noticing a seeming uptick in fires and other disruptions at food-production facilities around the country. Soon lists of “suspicious” fires at food plants began circulating on Facebook and Twitter. Our “food supply is under attack,” a typical tweet proclaimed.

By the spring of 2022, the lists of fires and other incidents had grown to include more than 90 events: fires damaged meatpacking plants in Georgia, Illinois, and other states; millions of chickens and turkeys were destroyed at dozens of farms; within a single week, airplanes crashed into two food-production facilities; and so on. Gateway Pundit, ZeroHedge, and other conspiracy-curious sites published stories on the trend. Soon Tucker Carlson was on the case. “What’s going on here?” the TV host asked. “Food processing plants all over the country seem to be catching on fire.”

A few days later, a Tucker Carlson Tonight reporter noted, “we have found no evidence that these incidents are either intentional or connected.” But the fuse was already lit. The meme continued to spread, notwithstanding investigations by the Associated Press, Reuters, and various self-described fact-checking organizations, including Snopes and Politifact. The fires had non-nefarious explanations, they concluded; and the nation’s food supply remains uncompromised. Still, for many observers, the fact that nearly 100 food-producing businesses had been affected seemed too suspicious to ignore.

On the Gateway Pundit site, a commenter using the handle Tempus Fugit asked a pertinent question: “The only missing fact in this story is, are these incidents above the norm?” That question—What is the baseline?—is one that news reporters routinely overlook. In fact, the human brain isn’t particularly good at sorting meaningful patterns from spurious ones. If anything, we are cognitively prone to see spooky patterns where none exist. The perceived food-disruption epidemic is an example of what psychologists call the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon” or the “frequency illusion.” Did you ever learn a new word, or the name of some historical person, and then suddenly start hearing that word or name everywhere? Those words or names have been around all along, but once you start noticing them, they seem to pop up with an uncanny frequency. (Why is this mental quirk named after a group of 1970s German terrorists? Answer here.)

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is a cognitive bias that works on an individual level. But perceived trends like the food-fire epidemic are amplified by a related bias that operates across society. It happens when news organizations and other groups devote extra attention to incidents that seem to fit a meaningful pattern. I call this the “freeway shooter syndrome.” Back in 1987, L.A. highways saw a spate of unexplained shootings. Several were actual cases of random gunfire between cars. But once the news media labelled the shootings a “murderous epidemic,” every incident involving cars and guns began making the nightly news, often receiving national coverage. Most of those cases weren’t random shootings: some were gang conflicts; some were carjackings or other common crimes; and some didn’t even happen on freeways. Normally, such incidents would have been minor local stories at most—until they fit a “pattern” that was largely the product of selection bias and media amplification.

Something similar happened in the 1990s when the media focused on an alleged wave of arson attacks on Southern black churches. That claim originated with a progressive group called the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), which attributed the church fires to “a well-organized white-supremacist movement.” President Bill Clinton condemned the “epidemic of hatred,” and Congress passed the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996. As usual, the media didn’t want to ruin a good story by asking that vital question: What’s the baseline? If they had, they would have learned that churches in remote areas—including mostly white churches—had long been prone to fires. Some cases were due to arson, and a few of those, sadly, were probably racially motivated. But there was no new epidemic of fires; in fact, the rate of church arson cases had fallen dramatically since the early 1980s. Reporting for the Wall Street Journal, Michael Fumento found that many of the claimed arson attacks on the CDR list were dubious at best. A large number of the cases had already been ruled accidental; in quite a few others, the arson suspects were themselves black. And several of the churches on the list had never burned at all.

There’s an old saying among journalists that some stories are “too good to check.” It’s supposed to be a joke. But all too often, when a story supports a media organization’s underlying biases, that motto remains operative. Despite the absence of confirming evidence, the media-boosted “epidemics” of 1980s freeway shootings and 1990s church fires continue to be credulously referenced in news articles to this day....


ZeroHedge is conspiracy-curious? 

Is that like bi-curious?