Yesterday someone sent me the Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense.
It one of those internet phenomena, currently doing the rounds. I saw it first via Twitter. It’s probably being emailed around too.
The Table of Periodic Nonsense v2.0: carefully designed disinformation
A Google search for the exact phrase “Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense” this morning yielded 68,500 results. That’s a lot. Then again, why not? The graphic is well produced and amusing, at least to a certain type of viewer. It’s obviously very popular.
But what is it?
Superfically, the answer’s obvious. It’s a graphic that looks like a periodic table, of the type most of us first encountered in basic chemistry lessons.
Yet it isn’t a regular Periodic Table.
Symbols for elements have been replaced with similar symbols (a Capital and small letter, both in roman script). These symbols are grouped and colour-coded in blocks, much like a regular chemical periodic table. Each symbol in the table is also named, but instead of the name of a chemical element such as Hydrogen, the names in this table are beliefs, belief systems, cults, religions, spiritual practices or something else of that general type.
In fact, it’s hard if not impossible to find a single descriptor for all the hundred or so terms arranged so neatly in the table. They represent many very different human traditions and beliefs. But the headline – prominently displayed in large type at the top of the table – does the job. It informs us these things are all ‘irrational nonsense‘.
That message won’t appeal to everyone. For example, followers of the world’s most popular religions such as Christianity, Islam and Hindusim might find themselves surprised to be categorized in the same block as Scientology. They might raise eyebrows over having religions classified as a sub-category of ‘irrational nonsense’ at all. Similarly, people who’ve obtained tangible relief from back ache through the services of a chiropracter might be annoyed that ‘traditional bollocks’ was all it really took to cure their pain. And so on… Look hard enough at the table and you’ll probably find a practice or tradition you actually like or respect, however much you consider yourself to be rational and scientifically-minded.
That – needless to say – appears to be the target audience: ‘rational’ and scientifically-minded’ people. The person who sent it to me is an IT expert. It obviously appealed to him. Scientifically-literate people may not be a majority of the population – even in secular countries such as the USA, Britain and Australia. But they are influential. These are folk who fix your computer, design bridges and test water supplies. They are people who live in the ‘real world’. From Richard Dawkins to your local medic, these are no-nonsense folk who ‘believe’ in science; conversely, they tend to be sceptical of ‘pseudo-science’.
That’s a lot of people, around the world. A lot of influential people. If something can help mould their opinion, it’s worth doing. Especially if it doesn’t take long to produce and it’s distributed ‘virally’. Whatever grabs the attention, however momentarily, of the world’s scientifcally-literate intelligensia, is of no small consequence. In a significant way, it helps to change the world – at least the important world of human belief.
Crispian Jago: mostly a sceptic
So who produced the table? That’s no mystery. At any rate, the graphic is copyrighted Crispian Jago. Crispian Jago, who apparently lives in Hampshire, England, has a blog that’s conveniently mentioned in small print on the image so we can easily look it up…
No suprprises to discover that Crispian Jago is a proud ‘scientific rationalist’ and ‘sceptic’. His blog’s title is Science, Reason and Critical Thinking – A Blog in Words and Pictures by Crispian Jago. The periodic table is only one of Jago’s many articles and images. He clearly has a talent for communication using both text and images.
Jago describes the role of his blog as: “Pointing a satirical and bogey stained finger at woos and faith-heads. In fact, general piss taking of the unenlightened who prefer dogma and irrational beliefs to the scientific method for determining the truth. With the occasional attempted poignant bleat.”
It’s also not unexpected that Jago’s blog includes links to no-nonsense atheists such as Richard Dawkins and well-known professional ‘sceptics’ such as Michael Shermer. Cynical bon-vivants Christopher Hitchens and Steven Fry are on the list too. But there’s more. I noticed David Aaronovitch is among Mr Jago’s links. Then I saw Nick Cohen. Both of those gentlemen may well dabble in ‘scepticism’, but only when it suits them, or so it seems to me. Back in 2003, for example, they were passionate and true believers in Iraqi WMDs, which proved to be nothing more than figments of their imagination. Both are well known as passionate supporters of Israel. Both went through a remarkable conversion, over the course of their lifetimes, from anti-establishment leftists to supporters of neocon wars in the middle east.
Is Crispian Jago, perchance, part of the same culture? Is he a Jewish Zionist too?
That seems possible, but if so, Mr Jago doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. Anyway, Crispian’s ethnicity and sectarian leanings are surely his own business? Even if he’s descended from Aboriginal natives of Tierra del Fuego, what does it matter to his output, as long as it is ‘rational’, ‘scientific’ and ‘value-free’?
But there’s the rub. Is the Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense really value free? Is this pure rationality at work? Or is it – as the sceptic in me suggests – a case of skilful but rather devious design, with an ulterior motive not apparent on first impressions?
Is there something else about the table and the messages it subtlely conveys that makes it worth creating – other than the high ideal of debunking irrationality? Is there a hidden meme in the bottle?
I’ll cut to the chase and give you my opinion. Then I’ll attempt to justify it. Naturally, you as reader can make up your own mind. You decide what’s ‘rational’ and what’s not. I’m sure some readers will dismiss what I’m about to suggest as ‘conspiracy theory’. By the time they finish the article, some may even wonder if I’m a ‘holocaust denier’ (horror of horrors).
There… that’s my suspicion, for what it’s worth. The ‘deep purpose’ of this graphic – it’s hidden goal – is twofold:
(1) to discredit concerns that the public has not been told the truth about some crucial events in the ‘post-war’ era – such the assassination of President John F Kennedy or the atrocity of 9-11. In the table, these are not mentioned specifically, but it’s a reasonable inference that they are intended to be subsumed under the category ‘conspiracy theories’; and
(2) to discredit the movement which seeks to critically review the facts about World War Two – and specifically the fate of Jewish people trapped inside German-controlled territory during the war. It’s a movement usually known to its adherents as ‘historical revisionism’ or ‘holocaust revisionism’, but which is labelled by its detractors as ‘holocaust denial’
What an outlandish suggestion, you may be thinking! How can this image pack so much devious punch? And why infer it has any ‘deep’ message at all? Isn’t it just a joke, poking fun at lots of things which the designer considers to be irrational mumbo-jumbo?
You may be right. But consider the evidence. Let’s look again at this very popular graphic – the one and only exhibit in this rather limited investigation.
It appears to have been produced with care. How does the eye travel when first viewing the image?
If you’re anything like me, your glance may hover first over the deep blue central block which has the heading ‘credulous’. It’s the largest block – and it’s right in the middle. When you check the names of elements, you discover it contains a lot of things that most scientifically-literate people consider to be nonsense.
Of course, you’ll glance up to the headline – if you didn’t start there first. It’s entitled ‘The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense’. That gives you a general idea about what you’re seeing. Your looking at a lot of nonsense!
Between the headline and the large deep blue block, various categories are depicted inside small rectangular boxes. There are nine boxes in total – four on the left, five on the right. All of them – from ‘Extra Terrestrial’ at the top left to ‘Alternative Medicine’ in the bottom right – are colour-coded.
Your eye may linger over this block of categories. Because it’s colour-coded, it guides you quickly to the equivalent block of individual symbols/’elements’. One category block stands out – at least it does for me. See if you notice the same thing. That’s the block entitled ‘Hoaxes, Frauds and Denials’.
Why does it stand out? Partly, it’s positioning. The eye tends to drift to the right of an image or sub-item within an image (at least, I believe that’s true for people accustomed to reading from the left to the right of a page). The main thing, however, is the sharp contrast between black text and the light yellow background colour of the box. The rest of the boxes are all quite subdued colours, but the yellow box is much lighter.
So strog is the effect that many people may view the entire graphic and read the phrase ‘Hoaxes, Frauds and Denials’ before they even notice the much larger main heading at the top of the page (‘The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense’). At least, it’s likely viewers soon capture both of these phrases. Ah.. so that’s what this table is about – ‘Hoaxes‘, ‘Frauds‘ and (malicious) ‘Denials‘ … all of which are ‘Irrational Nonsense‘!
Having absorbed this, the viewer may continue to explore the page. I suspect that the block they choose to view first often depends on what they do ‘believe in’ that might turn out be on the page somewhere. I quickly found chiropracters were branded as quacks. That was irritating to me, given my personal rather positive experience. I bet many people go through a similar process.
Even so, by the time you’ve explored a few blocks in the periodic table, you’re likely to acknowledge that this is mostly whacky stuff. Of course, some people won’t – people who aren’t impressed with mainstream science at all. They are typically (although not always) folk with little scientific training. They are the type who frequently drive scientists to distraction. So a scientifically-literate person is likely to absorb a general message too… anyone who believes all this stuff is nuts! Enough of their ‘irrational nonsense’!
The key is miscategorisation
While you’re exploring blocks that may interest you in particular, I bet that little yellow box nags at your attention. It’s near the centre of the graphic and it really does stand out. Each time you flash past you notice… ‘Hoaxes‘, ‘Frauds‘ and ‘Denials‘. Even if it’s not your main area of interest, if you view the page for more than 30 seconds you’ll probably find yourself glancing at the easy-to-read yellow column on the right.
That, I submit, is the intention of the designer/s of this clever graphic. That’s where they want to get you. If you stay on the page that long, the task is accomplished.
The category ‘Hoaxes, Frauds and Denials’ is depicted in the form of a column. From top to bottom, the listed ‘elements’ are Conspiracy Theories, Apocalyptic Processes, New World Order, Moon landing denial, HIV Aids denial, Holocaust denial and Chemtrails.
Much has been written on each of these topics and readers may well have their own opinions about each topic. Scientifically-literate people, however, once they notice that the column includes ‘Moon landing denial’ and ‘HIV Aids denial’, will probably take the view that this is a column of extremely loopy stuff. As their eye drifts upwards, they may notice ‘Conspiracy Theories’ at the top and wonder if it really should be included in the list. People do conspire from time to time, after all, don’t they? Everyone knows that…
Even so, guided by the term ‘New World Order’ which they’ve probably already seen in articles alleging 9-11 was a conspiracy, often in quite zany and badly-written material… and in view of the fact that ‘Moon landing denial’ is in the same column, the effect is likely to be a reinforcement of any existing prejudice viewers have already that ALL the items in the yellow block are whacky stuff. Not just whacky… rather creepy too. ‘Aids denial’ smacks of hompohobia. ‘Moon landing denial’ is a frontal assault on the credibility of mainstream science. Then there’s ‘holocaust deniers’ – so brazen they even ‘deny history’ because of their perverted views…
I have little doubt that’s the intended take home message of the Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense.
To use a rather glib phrase, it is cleverly produced Zionist propaganda. It’s intended to divert intelligent, rational people from asking probing questions that Zionists find uncomfortable, such as what really occured on 9-11, what did go on in November 1963 and what truly took place in war-torn eastern Europe back in the early 1940s. The graphic is designed to help people dismiss these questions as the sole preserve of a lunatic fringe. It’s sneaky and I imagine it’s been very effective in achieving that objective.
Of course, not only Zionists find these questions uncomfortable. Many people with no particular allegiance to, or fondness for, the Israeli State, also find such questions disturbing. The mass media has helped mould that mindset, by informing them that only people with malevolent agendas ever ask such questions. That’s not true, but it has been an effective way of cordoning off public opinion. To date, real sceptics have been marginalised in debates about these subjects, at least in the mainstrem ‘western’ media and in mainstream political discourse in the ‘west’.
It’s hard to argue openly that people should not ask questions – and that asking questions is intrinsically a bad thing. It’s hard to pursuade people directly that it’s only acceptable to believe in recieved knowledge. Scientifically-minded people are least likely – on the face of things – to be pursuaded that scepticism is bad. After all, they’ve been trained in the history of science. They know that questioning minds made the key scientific breakthroughs. They know that the pursuit of intellectual curiosity gave rise to modern civilisation. Lots of them have heard about a guy called Socrates, who insisted on the right to ask unpopular questions, many moons ago.
The most effective way to pursuade scientists that sceptics should be persecuted and marginalised is by mis-categorising sceptics as dogmatists. Do that – and scientists themselves will happily recommend the marginalisation of these people to each other. After all, marginalising irrational dogmatists is what scientists feel comfortable doing. If they hadn’t managed that at the time of the Enlightenment, we’d still be living without electricity.
The most effective way to achieve this marginalisation has been via phoney professional ‘sceptics’ such as Michael Shermer in the USA and Philip Adams in Australia. They have skillfully achieved the popular miscategorisation of certain types of scepticism – scepticism relating to someaspects of current affairs and recent history – as irrational, quasi-religious dogmatism.
Professor Robert Faurisson following one of several attacks by Zionist extremists: usually other academics would complain about this type of assault, but Faurisson has been branded a 'holocaust denier'
Chemists such as Germar Rudolf and literery experts such as Robert Faurisson have been marginalised and excluded from mainstream debate by impugning their motives and making it seem that, instead of being committed to asking questions and engaging in rational debate, these academics are driven by irrationality and hate-inspired dogmatism. Many people who read their work directly for the first time get a surprise – but most people never do. They are not to be found in mainstream bookshops or anywhere in the mainstream media. They are, however, available via the internet – for now – free of charge for those interested. But most educated westerners have remained deeply suspicious of the motives of people who question the offical version of 9-11, the Kennedy assasinations or World War Two – sufficiently suspicious to avoid reading much about it. If they do start looking via the web, chances are they’ll encounter plenty of distracting, off-putting, badly-written and unconvincing nonsense before they encounter the more serious, substantial and well-referenced material that’s been written on these contentious topics. Plenty of folk give up before they find wheat amidst so much chaff.
The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense is only the latest in a long series of attempts to portray certain types of scepticism as dogmatism. It’s a nice try. But like all deception, it only works for a while. Someone eventually spots the man behind the curtain and tells their friends. Illusionists only get by with the same tricks for so long before the crowd starts to heckle.
Once I formed the impression that the table is a carefully-constructed item of Zionist propaganda, I was naturally interested to see if and how Judaism fitted into the Table. Its absence would stand out… but it is in fact on the table. Judaism is included in the block of religions. It’s at the top of the tallest column of (sky-blue) religions – out on its own – positioned above Christianity, Islam Neo-Paganism and the Bahai Faith. It also happens to have the number 13. Why? I have no idea. Is that significant? Pass.
There is, however, one remarkable omission from the table. I’ve stared at it now for several minutes and I can’t seem to find Cabbalism (aka Kabbalism) listed anywhere. Perhaps it’s my blindspot? Or maybe it’s a blind-spot for the designer/s?
I suppose they wouldn’t dabble in the Cabbala on the side, now would they?
That would be irrational.