Something Stupid I Heard Today: Nat Geo Edition

Something Stupid I Heard Today: Nat Geo Edition

lighteningNormally “something stupid I heard today” involves something I overheard while shopping or in an elevator. Tonight, though, I must rant about my disgust with television shows on scientific topics. It seems that no show or network can get to the end without including something pseudoscientific, mystical, supernatural, or just plain stupid.

I am watching the National Geographic Channel. The show is an episode of Explorer titled Struck by Lightning. I have learned a few things about lightning that I did not know such as the fact that the lightning we see is usually the return strike (the electricity’s return trip to the sky) and not what is headed to Earth.

However, about 45 minutes into the program, they blew it.

A woman who was struck 12 years prior had this to say…

People tend to not believe this, but one of the most unusual side effects that I had was that street lights, parking lots, I’ve had billboard lights in a lot of cases, tend to go off as I approach them. It’s very random, I have no control over it, I don’t know when it’s going to happen.


Aside from the fact that a lightning strike does not leave one “electrified”, so there is no mechanism that would account for it, try Googling “street lights go out”. Do not bother with adding “as I drive by” — you will not need to in order to get hundreds of hits which ask exactly that. Read a few. How many of these people say they were struck by lightning?

She was not the only one. Another woman said:

I have a lot of interference with electronic equipment such AS computers, such AS ATM cards and credit cards and, you know, I have store merchants who laugh because, you know, I short out their machines. I blow light bulbs like that. I try not to blow light bulbs. It’s kind of cool the first time, but then it’s not cool anymore.

I need to ask my mother if I was struck by lightning and nobody told me. Light bulbs do not last in our house, either.

There are many, many people who claim to experience these things. There is even a name for them: SLIers. People who claim Street Light Interference (SLI) often claim, as the second woman above, that they experience other interference as well.

The confirmation bias is a powerful, powerful thing.

What disturbs me is that the show treats these claims as credible, but unprovable. On the contrary, extraordinary claims (those which defy what is known about the way things work), are only credible when extraordinary evidence exists to support them. There is no evidence at all for these claims. Personal anecdotes are not evidence and nobody has been able to perform this feat on cue or to even systematically observe it.

Still, the show’s narrator says:

These unusual events, whether real or imagined, demonstrate how little we know about the effect of electric shock.

?? Um, no, they do not.

We know a great deal about the effect of electric shock, and all these things demonstrate is that people are irrational magical thinkers.

What this show demonstrates is that it is nearly impossible to escape B.S.



Ani on August 10th, 2009 at 12:55:

My internet service disconnects all the time! I ought to see if I’ve been struck my lightening as well.

Federate on August 11th, 2009 at 12:54:

It seems that no show or network can get to the end without including something pseudoscientific, mystical, supernatural, or just plain stupid.

I know what you mean. The sad thing about this is that generally, people seem to forget the important details they learn during the program but have no trouble retaining the bizarre and unfounded stories. The word about these stories spreads faster than an actual scientific fact such as lightening being the return strike.

khan on August 11th, 2009 at 13:18 :
It’s ‘lightning’
Barbara Drescher on August 11th, 2009 at 14:02:
Indeed it is. And I had typed “lightening” throughout. Thank you for noticing — I think I got them all…

Ani on August 11th, 2009 at 15:50:
*slaps her forehead* Of course it is! <<

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