You might have never seen it had it not been tweeted out through the Oklahoma state Tourism Department’s official Twitter account, but TravelOK.com appears to promote pseudoscience.
What is pseudoscience? Wash away all your fat and keep on eating is an example of what may be possible under a theory developed by pseudoscience. In ordinary conversation, the word “theory” connotes an opinion, a conjecture, or a supposition. But in science, the term has a much more limited meaning. A scientific theory is an attempt to explain some aspect of the natural world in terms of empirical evidence and observation. It commonly draws upon established principles and knowledge with the aim of extending them in a logical and consistent way that enables one to make useful predictions. All scientific theories are tentative and subject to being tested and modified. As theories become more mature, they grow into more organized bodies of knowledge that enable us to understand and predict a wider range of phenomena. Examples of such theories are quantum theory, Einstein’s theories of relativity, and evolution.
Among the hundreds of tourism spots in the state posted on the website, one location near Springer is included which, if you believe what you read, may be the result of ghosts or alien forces.
It’s called Magnetic Hill, a stretch of a rural road off of Highway 53 north of Springer. The website explains that if you stop your car and put it in neutral, it appears to roll uphill. It’s an optical illusion known as a gravity hill. But the TravelOK.com website calls it “one of Oklahoma’s greatest mysteries” and “an unexplained phenomenon.” The website description goes on to say, “Whether caused by ghosts, a magnetic force, alien contact or an optical illusion, this is something you have to see for yourself.”
Rather than stating it’s definitely a fun optical illusion that you should experience, the website alludes to possible paranormal explanations. Even though it is known to be an optical illusion, the website claims it is an unexplained mystery.
Dick Dutton is Director of the Travel and Promotion Division, which is in charge of the TravelOK.com website. He says “it’s a matter of opinion” as to whether the wording is misleading. “Part of our job is to promote these out-of-the-way places,” Dutton said in a phone interview. “If we can creatively write things to pique interest” then it helps the area, he explained.
Dutton said he is not going to change his style of writing simply because someone calls to say they don’t like it. He did admit that the use of the word “unexplained might be stretching it” a bit. But he defended his use of “ghosts” and “alien forces” as a possible explanation of an optical illusion, saying that people can believe what they want.
It’s not the only reference to pseudoscience on the TravelOK.com website. There is a whole section dealing with Haunted Oklahoma. Sometimes it uses phrases like “is rumored to” or “visitors have reported seeing” which allow the stories to be told while not endorsing them as truth.
But other times it comes out and says directly that “Paranormal investigative teams have encountered several other ghosts” at the Stone Lion Inn in Guthrie. As anyone who has watched even a single episode of the numerous ghost hunting shows proliferating these days on cable knows, these paranormal investigative teams use very creative interpretations in order to make their claims of success.
When asked if the website description was lying to people about what is happening at Magnetic Hill, Dutton said no. He said there is nothing wrong with “expanding the truth” to attract visitors and didn’t seem to think people would visit if they knew it was just an optical illusion.
Editor’s note: the word “unexplained” has been removed from the description of Magnetic Hill, so you will not see that word if you click on the link in the story. This screen capture taken yesterday shows the previous version.