|Alma mater||University of Manchester|
|Known for||Debunking chemtrails and other conspiracy theories|
|Awards||Committee for Skeptical Inquiry fellow|
Mick West is a British-American science writer, skeptical investigator, and retired video game programmer. He is the creator of the websites Contrail Science and Metabunk, and he investigates and debunks pseudoscientific claims and conspiracy theories such as chemtrails and UFOs. His first book is Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect.
West has appeared in various media including CBS, the BBC, CNN, Radio New Zealand and Scientific American as an expert conspiracy analyst and science communicator. He has twice been a speaker at the conference of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and in 2020 was elected a fellow of the organization.
West grew up in the small town of Bingley, on the outskirts of Bradford, England. As a child he was fascinated by the paranormal, UFOs and stories of alien abductions, also believing he had psychic abilities. As he grew older, he came to believe that these phenomena weren't real, and instead, that there were rational explanations to explain them. "I used to believe in all this stuff and then I stopped believing in all this stuff, and I guess just figuring out why this stuff was wrong became interesting to me." In early adulthood, West found himself using a pre-internet, modem-based bulletin board called FidoNet to argue with people who were using it to spread conspiracy theories.
Video game programming career
West co-founded the video game development company Neversoft Entertainment in July 1994 with Joel Jewett and Chris Ward. Neversoft is known for the Spider-Man, Tony Hawk's, and Guitar Hero video game franchises, and West was heavily involved in programming the first five games of the Tony Hawk's series. The company was acquired by Activision in October 1999.
In 2003, after resigning from Neversoft, West's interest in debunking took hold. "I retired, I had lots of spare time, I didn't have vast other interests that I was pursuing, and so I was able to focus on these things. I could focus on Morgellons, and I wrote like a hundred little articles on Morgellons. Because I have this background in video game programming and debugging and investigating things, I was able to do fairly deep technical investigations of things."
West now attempts to interact with his interviewees and his audience on his various media with empathy to help them see reality. These people, he says, see a different version of reality: "They prefer the one where the government is evil. Now, it doesn't mean the government isn't evil, it doesn't mean that people in power aren't corrupt, it doesn't mean politicians aren't corrupt, but it also doesn't mean that they planted bombs in the World Trade Center. Just because politicians are corrupt, it doesn't necessarily follow the World Trade Center was a controlled demolition."
West became interested in the chemtrail conspiracy theory while studying aviation weather for his pilot’s license. He created the website “Contrail Science” with the aim of explaining contrails and debunking chemtrail theories. He believed initially that he could explain and debunk these theories quite quickly, but they were more resilient than he’d anticipated: he has now spent more than 10 years covering the topic.
The discussion on the “Contrail Science” website eventually expanded to include other conspiracy theories, including that of 9/11. So West decided to create another website, “Metabunk”, to expand the discussion to other alternative beliefs. Metabunk covers such topics as pseudoscience, UFOs and the paranormal. The website also includes a forum, “Skydentify”, where West invites people to send photos and videos of UFOs and supposed ghosts. He analyses these using his background in video game programming and Photoshop, and then he and other forum members attempt to explain what the photos and videos are actually depicting. They also discuss the best way to communicate the results of their debunking investigations. Analysis from West and other experts on Metabunk has been cited in generalist publications.
West describes the objective of his work as attempting to get people out of the “rabbit hole” of conspiratorial thinking. “Chemtrails is a surprisingly popular theory; it’s right up there with things like the 9/11 conspiracy theories,” he says. “It all stems from a fundamental distrust of science and authority. You are always going to get a percentage of people who are true believers. My goal is to minimize that as much as possible, stop people falling for it, and help them get out as easily as possible.”
In August 2016, West co-authored a paper with climate scientists Ken Caldeira, Christine Shearer, and Steven J. Davis published in the journal Environmental Research Letters titled Quantifying expert consensus against the existence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program (SLAP). The objective of the paper was to produce a peer-reviewed expert response to the chemtrail theory. The authors surveyed experts on atmospheric chemistry and deposition to scientifically evaluate the claims of chemtrail conspiracy theorists. Upon publication, it was recognized as the first study by a major science organization on the topic. Its conclusion reported that “76 out of 77 (98.7%) scientists that took part in this study said there was no evidence of a SLAP, and that the data cited as evidence could be explained through other factors, such as typical contrail formation and poor data sampling instructions presented on SLAP websites” Data science company Altmetric rated the paper in the top 5% of all research in terms of interest generated and it has been cited many times by scientific publications and news outlets. This included the New York Times, where West said the new study should help sway people who might otherwise be convinced by a chemtrails website. “You’re trying to hold back the tide to a certain degree, and hopefully have less people fall into that way of thinking.”
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
West has written several articles for the Skeptical Inquirer, the journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, (CSI), including “Curated Crowdsourcing in UFO Investigations”, “In Defense of Debunkers”, and "UFOs Come Out of the Shadows. Again. Perhaps."
In 2016, West delivered a Sunday Papers presentation at the annual conference of CSI, CSICon, titled “Expert Elicitation vs. Chemtrails” in which he discussed his 2016 scientific paper on climate engineering. In 2018, West again spoke at CSICon, this time as a featured speaker on the subject of debunking a 9-11 conspiracy theory involving microspheres.
Escaping the Rabbit Hole
In 2018, West authored Escaping the Rabbit Hole. How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect with the goal of helping people understand and explain conspiracy theories, and then pass those explanations onto others. In a review of the book, British actor Stephen Fry wrote “Mick West demonstrates with exquisite style, wit, and insight how those three rare and valuable species, Fact, Logic and Respect (each now on the very brink of extinction) have in harness the power to shine light into darkness and dispel the miasma of bias, superstition and balefully proud ignorance that is threatening to poison our age." An extended excerpt from this book was published in Salon. The book was featured in an analysis released by the University of McGill Office for Science and Society in 2018. Celestia Ward points out that "Debunking conspiracy theories is a lot of work. But it's worthwhile if you are helping a loved one out of a mindset that can cause them harm. Mick West has shouldered a tremendous amount of the work himself, summarizing some conspiracy beliefs and demonstrable facts to refute those beliefs..."
Tales from the Rabbit Hole
West started a podcast in April 2019, Tales from the Rabbit Hole, in which he interviews "conspiracy culture" guests.
In September 2016, Radio New Zealand profiled West as a science writer and someone who “is dedicated to the art of debunking wild theories that circulate online and helping other people do the same, with his website, Metabunk.” In the interview he described how his passion for debunking comes from a concern that real problems are being ignored because science is ignored. In particular he talked about the harm conspiracy theorists can cause when they accuse the families of victims of gun massacres as being crisis actors. He also explained that when “dealing with conspiracy theorists the best thing is to be polite. You’ve got to be a kind of gentleman scientist. If people are polite then you will get listened to. Never misrepresent yourself, never lie, never fake evidence, never indulge in hoaxes. You’ve got to be 100% beyond reproach at all times.”
In May 2020, Susan Gerbic of the About Time Project interviewed West regarding how people fall into the "rabbit hole" of conspiracy theories, and discussed ideas for helping friends and family come to reality.
In late December 2020, West was one of the experts quoted in a BBC article regarding suggestions for talking to friends and relatives who believe in conspiracy theories. West said "My number one rule would be to not spoil Christmas...An angry, heated conversation will leave everyone feeling rubbish and further cement conspiracy beliefs."
In May 2021, West was a guest on the CNN show Cuomo Prime Time where he provided his explanations for three recent high profile UAV videos made by US Navy personnel. In each case West demonstrated that simple misinterpretations and video artifacts were likely explanations of the peculiar attributes of the recorded objects.:32:20
West has made a number of appearances on podcasts discussing his life and debunking career. These include being interviewed by Richard Saunders on the Skeptic Zone, Benjamin Radford on Squaring the Strange, and on Something You Should Know. He has also made several appearances on the Joe Rogan Experience to discuss various conspiracy theories.
West was raised in England, attending the University of Manchester, but in 2009 he became a citizen of the United States. He documented the naturalization process in detail on his website. As of 2020, West was a resident of Sacramento, California.
- Escaping the Rabbit Hole. How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect 
- Tales From The Rabbit Hole
- Lewis-Kraus, Gideon (2021-04-30). "How The Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously". newyorker.com. The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
- Hester, Blake. "How Mick West Went From Making Tony Hawk's Pro Skater to Debunking Conspiracy Theories". usgamer.net. Gamer Network. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
- "Neversoft Entertainment (Company)". Giant Bomb. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
- Rogers, Kaleigh (2018-06-26). "Send This Article to All Your Friends Who Believe in Chemtrails". motherboard.vice.com. Vice. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
- Saunders, Richard (1 July 2018). "The Skeptic Zone". skepticzone.tv (Podcast). The Skeptic Zone Podcast. Event occurs at 2.30. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
- Austin, Jon (2018-01-13). "Is this REAL TRUTH about Pentagon UFO video that convinced world aliens may exist?". express.co.uk. Express Newspapers. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
- Kooser, Amanda (2018-01-13). "UFO caught on video? Skeptics weigh in on weird footage". cnet.com. CBS interactive. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
- Gault, Matthew (May 6, 2020). "The Skeptic's Guide to the Pentagon's UFO Videos". Vice.com. Retrieved 2020-08-25.
- Gerbic, Susan. "From Chemtrails to CSICon: An Interview with Mick West". csicorp.org. CSI. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
- "Episode 75 - Escaping the Rabbit Hole with Mick West". squaringthestrange.libsyn.com. Kronos Creative. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- Sutherland, Scott. "Scientists conclude 'chemtrail conspiracy' has no substance". theweathernetwork.com. The Weather Network. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
- Shearer, Christine; West, Mick; Caldeira, Ken; Davis, Stephen (2016). "Quantifying expert consensus against the existence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program". Environmental Research Letters. IOP Publishing. 11 (8): 084011. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/8/084011.
- "Quantifying expert consensus against the existence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program". altmetric.com. Altmetric. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
- Fountain, Henry (2016-08-15). "Scientists Just Say No to 'Chemtrails' Conspiracy Theory". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
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- "CSICon 2018: Speakers". csiconference.org. CFI. Archived from the original on 27 September 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
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- "Escaping the Rabbit Hole". skyhorsepublishing.com. Skyhorse Publishing. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
- West, Mick (2018-09-16). "How to pull a friend out of the conspiracy theory rabbit hole". Salon. Salon Media Group, Inc. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
- Jarry, Jonathan. "Conspiracy Theories and How to Break Free". YouTube. University of McGill. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
- Ward, Celestia (2019). "A Skeptical Guide through the Conspiracy Rabbit Hole". Skeptical Inquirer. 43 (1): 56–57.
- "Tales From The Rabbit Hole: Arts and Culture Podcasts". tunein.com. Tune In. Archived from the original on 23 December 2020. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
- Martin, David. ""Missile Mystery" Laid to Rest". cbsnews.com. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
- "Mystery solved: 'Mystery missile' just a jet". scpr.org. Southern California Public Radio. 2010-11-11. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
- "Overcast". overcast-the-movie.com. Dedal Films. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
- "Overcast - an Investigation Into Climate Engineering". worldfilmpresentation.com. World Film Presentation. 2016-02-28. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
- "Cuomo Prime Time with Chris Cuomo". CNN.com. CNN. 21 May 2021. Archived from the original on 22 May 2021. Retrieved 22 May 2021.
- "The man who debunks conspiracy theories". radionz.co.nz. Radio New Zealand. 2016-09-21. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
- "About Time Presents - In Conversation with Mick West". Youtube.com. About Time. 28 May 2020. Archived from the original on 23 December 2020. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
- Spring, Marianna (21 December 2020). "How should you talk to friends and relatives who believe conspiracy theories?". bbc.com. BBC. Archived from the original on 23 December 2020. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
- "212 Where Conspiracy Theories Come From & Which Do Humans Prefer – Strict or Loose Rules?". somethingyoushouldknow.net. Something You Should Know. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- Rogan, Joe. "JRE #1052 - Mick West". joerogan.net. Joe Rogan. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
- David, Leonard. "Experts Weigh In on Pentagon UFO Report". Scientific American. Retrieved 2021-06-08.
- West, Mick (11 January 2007). "THE IT2010 COMPETITION". mickwest.com. Mick West. Archived from the original on 23 December 2020. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
- West, Mick (17 February 2009). "MY NATURALIZATION INTERVIEW". mickwest.com. Mick West. Archived from the original on 23 December 2020. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
- West, Mick (26 March 2009). "NATURALIZATION OATH IN POMONA". mickwest.com. Mick West. Archived from the original on 23 December 2020. Retrieved 23 December 2020.