The Phantom Drone Scare: The Recent Spate of Sightings in the Midwest have Residents on Edge. One Explanation Can Be Ruled Out--Mass Hysteria

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Author: Robert Bartholomew
Date: Winter 2020
From: Skeptic (Altadena, CA)(Vol. 25, Issue 1)
Publisher: Skeptics Society & Skeptic Magazine
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,391 words

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SINCE MID-DECEMBER, THERE have been hundreds of reports of drones with unusually long wingspans flying in remote parts of Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas, often in formation with other drones. The sightings have created such concern that the FBI has launched a Drone Task Force and is working with more than a dozen state and federal agencies. The flurry of mysterious drones crisscrossing the skies over the Midwest has attracted international media interest and spawned numerous conspiracy theories. It's the military. It's the CIA. It's a retired aviation expert with too much time on his hands. And of course, no explanation would be complete without the usual suspects: the Russians, the Chinese, Arab terrorists, and space aliens. But authorities are increasing looking to a surprising explanation: hysteria.

As an expert on this topic, I can categorically conclude that whatever the trigger for these sightings is, it is not mass hysteria. Commonly referred to in scientific circles as mass psychogenic illness, this term refers to the rapid spread of illness symptoms within what is typically a close-knit group. I am unaware of a single report involving people seeing drones and suddenly feeling unwell. Given the lack of concrete evidence for drones and the identification of several objects that were clearly not drones, there is a much more likely explanation: what sociologists refer to as a collective delusion. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the term because of the word "delusion," which is commonly used by psychiatrists and psychologists to describe people who are experiencing psychosis and having trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality. They may exhibit visual or audio hallucinations or create complex stories that have little basis in fact. However, when sociologists use the term collective delusion, they are usually referring to incidents involving the spontaneous spread of false beliefs within a given population.

If this were a horse race, based on the evidence compiled thus far, Social Delusion would be the clear early favorite. There are many examples of collective delusions in recent history. One famous episode occurred in Ireland during the mid-1980s,...

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Source Citation
Bartholomew, Robert. "The Phantom Drone Scare: The Recent Spate of Sightings in the Midwest have Residents on Edge. One Explanation Can Be Ruled Out--Mass Hysteria." Skeptic [Altadena, CA], vol. 25, no. 1, 2020, p. 10+. Accessed 14 May 2021.

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