Saturday, May 3, 2014

Things I Didn't Finish - The Missing 411

I'm lying - I'm not even going to start this one.

I was interested in the Missing 411 book series by David Paulides because it's a brand new paranormal and/or conspiracy theory, but on further examination I'm not sure it's much of anything.  I'm making some assumptions seeing as the promotion has been on Coast to Coast and similar venues, so I don't think this is just a critique of search and rescue techniques.

Here's what I know from interviews and promotional materials without shelling out $25.  I'll stop when I get to something inexplicable.

People go missing in our national parks.
People that get lost in the woods sometimes act funny while they die of exposure.
Research is hard.

Nope, nothing going on here.  Let's break this down a little more.  Yes, people get lost in National Parks.  It's very easy to get lost and not very easy to get found.

The smoke where there is a conspiratorial fire is that Paulides claims that the government does not keep records of missing people in the national parks.  Really? What I think he really means with pat statements like that is there is not a current list of all persons still considered missing, like the big "Solved/Unsolved/Cold" blackboards in a Homicide Division of a TV cop show.  Of course records are kept, but if you want all the records for every missing persons case in the national parks over like 200 years, yes, it will get expensive.

This bit gets represented differently in almost every account I've seen.  In some places he says they don't keep any records whatsoever, which is clearly not true.  In one account he said they refused an FOIA request saying no records exist, in another he said the request would have been ungodly expensive because of the massive amounts of records.

Criticizing a government agency for sucking at their job and having research unfriendly record keeping techniques is a fair and American thing to do.  However, it makes for a lousy foundation of a conspiracy theory.  From the interviews I heard I didn't get the sense that the Parks Department was stonewalling anyone - it seemed more the case that they weren't going to research and compile his book for him on the cheap.

I wouldn't harp on this so much except that it not only seems to be the cornerstone of an implied conspiracy, but it's mentioned in every ordering page and piece of promotion that the project took over three years and 7000 hours of investigation.  Brag about those numbers to a published academic and see how impressed they are.

On to the mysterious disappearances.  He must have been saving the "mysterious" part for the paying audience, because he doesn't give good examples in the promotions.  People are found further away than expected, or they're found uphill from where they were.  Sometimes dogs don't find the scent.  Sometimes people are found dead close to roads or where searchers already looked.  None of the examples he gives seem that particularly unusual, much less unexplainable.  It's very easy to get lost, people panic and do weird things, and finding a dead body in the woods is near impossible.

The strangest phenomena is also the one easiest explained.  People who die of exposure are often found fully or partially naked.  I don't know if the book implies this, but many of the readers have been drawing the conclusion that there is some kind of weird sexual abduction thing going on.

People get weird when they are afraid, and being lost in the woods is one of the most terrifying things I can think of.  Add to the mix exhaustion and hypothermia, and the victim can get become disoriented, get amnesia, or become combative.  In the final stages of hypothermia, they also remove clothing and try burrowing into a hole or crevice.  These are called paradoxical undressing and terminal burrowing.  Things so common and well known they have fancy scientific names and everything.

We aren't exactly sure what causes paradoxical undressing, as it seems to occur in the final, terminal stages of hypothermia, but it's believed that the brain or nerve endings get damaged or confused, causing the victim to feel heat.  This happens in 20-50% of hypothermia deaths, so it's not exactly rare.

Not letting science spoil another good mystery, Paulides refutes the existence of paradoxical undressing, because he talked to a mountain climber that never heard of it.  Well, that settles that.

There's also the matter of clusters, that disappearance tend to happen in proximity in location and time.  The biggest such cluster of parks disappearances is in Yellowstone, as oppose to say, downtown Chicago.  Research is hard, but statistical modeling is, like, really hard.  Maybe he has models that compare rates of total park visitors to the missing, has accounted for variations in the data collecting methods, and has calculated a margin of error for but I'm guessing not so much.

My understanding is that there is not a hypothesis of the cause of the phenomena in the book itself.  One thing that is evidently not the cause, if Paulides' ubiquitous online defensive comments mean anything, is Bigfoot.  Some reviewers even lazier than me jumped to some unfair conclusions, but where did they get that idea?  Well, let's go over to the order page at the North American Bigfoot Search website.  The order links are at the bottom, leading to the page titled Bigfoot Store.  Hey, who's that hairy guy at the top?

Maybe there's some fortean high weirdness in the book, but this just sounds like when you lose your keys and then find them later in the freezer.  You can't explain how they got there, but it's not exactly the Unexplained.


  1. Awesome! I fell down the Paulides rabbit hole last week and after googling, reading, and listening to the stuff on the web I came to the same conclusion as you (just finished a post myself).

    What I have found a little odd tho is how few Paulides sceptics there seem to be online. But then again, maybe that says something too.

  2. The only good skeptical breakdown I found is an Amazon review -

  3. Replies
    1. In case you're interested my post went live yesterday...

  4. "Research is hard" is a hilarious statement seeing as how you haven't bothered to read even one of the books.

    That said, I agree with your main sentiment. There isn't anything mysterious about people getting lost while hiking or camping in rugged, rural areas. Right?

    That's right. And these days, the vast majority of missing persons cases in such places are solved very quickly, within a day or two at most. SAR personell, tracking dogs, and aircraft with infrared cameras make finding lost hikers relatively easy.

    The cases presented in the 411 books, now numbering around 1400, have been filtered out of tens of thousands of normal cases. You want to say there's nothing strange here, but these cases are without a doubt anomalous in comparison to most missing persons cases.

    If you think there is nothing to this, I'd like to hear your explanations of why the SAR organization has repeatedly invited David Paulides to speak and give presentations at their conferences? They seem to think something weird is going on. Do you suppose you know more than they do?

    Many people who run international missing persons databases and organizations have read Paulides' work and said he is on to something. Are you proposing they are gullible idiots?

    The FBI have been involved in a large number of the cases in Paulides' books. The FBI do not assist in finding lost hikers. Their involvement indicates they believed something criminal had taken place. If only they had read your assesment first, they would have realized they were just being dumb.

    There are numerous websites by retired law enforcement people who have dedicated their time to working on these cases, because they seem to believe there is something more here than lost campers. Are they just stupid, too?

    Read at least one of the books. There is a reason why the people and organizations I've listed see merit in Paulides' work. And IMO the primary reason you don't is because "research is hard."

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  6. Things I didn't Finish. From the looks of this review I'm starting to think it might be your education.

    There is nothing wrong with being skeptical but at least do a little research and read the book next time before you trash it. Research is hard but it is the key to making a valid argument. Yours is null and void since you failed to read the material.

    1. Should I read the book of an author that claims the Earth is flat? Heck, no. Sometimes we don't have to read a book to trash it. I am familiar with hiking in the National Parks, I watched Paulides interviews and that was enough for me.