Anti-Science

Travis Scott/Astroworld Tragedy: The Science & the Conspiracies

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Depressing topic today: the Travis Scott/Astroworld mass casualty event. If you’ve been asleep for the past week, let me tell you what happened: on Friday, November 5, eight people were killed and hundreds more were injured in a crowd surge that occurred at a festival where the rapper Travis Scott was performing. It was a truly horrific event but it wasn’t exactly surprising considering that Scott has become famous for riling up his fans, to the point where he has actually been arrested several times for encouraging a concert crowd to rush the stage, resulting in injuries.

There are a few interesting details about this event that I want to talk about. First up is the science behind what happened. Crowds are, in general, an interesting phenomenon studied by all sorts of researchers, from psychologists and mechanical engineers to mathematicians and computational theorists. On the one hand you have individuals who have their own thoughts and motivations, and on the other hand you have a mass of objects that can be the helpless playthings of the laws of physics. In some cases, crowds have even been studied as a kind of fluid that flows in a predictable pattern.

When thinking of these kinds of events, you may be tempted to think of a stampede, and of panicked people behaving in irrational ways that lead to injury and death. In fact, authorities will sometimes put blame on the crowd for their own deaths, as happened in 1989 at a soccer game in England. But the people who study these events point out that the people in the crowd are rarely to blame for what happens — yes, if a bunch of people are terrified and fleeing a fire or a gun, they might push and shove and trample one another. But in cases like concerts, sporting events, or the insanely common example of religious pilgrimages, it’s usually a disaster that unfolds relatively slowly and predictably.

For instance, earlier this year Israel experienced their largest civil disaster in that country’s history when 45 people were killed and hundreds more were injured during a pilgrimage to a Rabbi’s tomb. While outlets referred to it as a “stampede,” what actually happened was that people tripped and fell on a narrow, metal, slippery, sloping path that led to a stairway, at the bottom of which was an exit that security had apparently blocked. The crowd in the back was unaware of the blockage so they continued walking forward and the people at the bottom of the stairs were crushed. As in many of these types of situations, some were trampled but the biggest problem was asphyxiation, with people calling out that they couldn’t breathe. In a lot of these situations, people actually die standing up, literally packed in with others so tightly that they can’t draw in a breath.

This could have been prevented — multiple different agencies had warned that the site was dangerous for the number of visitors it attracted each year, with too few exits and existing exits that were too narrow, creating bottlenecks. Yet, nothing was done, and now dozens of people are dead.

With all that in mind, was Travis Scott responsible? Ultimately the courts will decide that, but the crowd started noticing the crush before Scott even took the stage at 9pm. The first death probably happened around 9:30pm, and Scott continued the show for another 30 minutes as people shouted that they were having trouble breathing and begged security guards to let them through the barriers. The guards responded by reinforcing the barriers. Between all of that, plus the overall design of the festival grounds and the lack of proper training of guards and medical personnel, it seems like there’s plenty of blame to go around.

There’s loads of data on this. Scientists know how to prevent it, but they were ignored.

Before going on, let me point out there are a few ways you as an individual might be able to save your own life in a situation like this: first, notice when you’re being touched by people on all sides. If you feel the crowd moving you against your will, it’s time to get out. Keep your hands up in front of your chest to give yourself breathing room and move with the crowd and to the side toward the nearest exit.

Of course, sometimes there’s simply nothing you can do, which his why it’s so important for event organizers to pay attention to the data and take the necessary precautions to prevent it before it happens.

Now that we’ve talked about the science, let’s get to the conspiracy theories. And yes, that’s plural. There are multiple conspiracy theories and it hasn’t even been a week. 

First up is the conspiracy theory spread by the actual authorities: that a random person was going around injecting people with a mysterious substance, which may or may not have led to the “panic” (which again, did not happen as there was not a mass panic or stampede, just a predictable crush of people). According to police, a security guard was stabbed in the neck with a needle and he immediately lost consciousness, leading medical personnel to administer Narcan, a treatment that stops the effects of an opioid overdose.

That is…not how drugs work. At all. This isn’t Dexter — you can’t just randomly stab someone with a needle full of opioids and cause immediate loss of consciousness. If that worked heroin addicts wouldn’t spend all that time, you know, carefully trying to find veins that still work.

This is just another version of the ongoing panic over fentanyl, as shown in a viral video last month where a San Diego police officer touched some of the drug and immediately passed out. His partner administered Narcan and rushed him to the hospital to treat his “overdose.” But he didn’t overdose, because that’s not how fentanyl works. You can’t OD on it by touching it or just being near to it. So why did he pass out? Simple: panic attack. Panic attacks are real, and they’re scary, and they have actual noticeable physical effects on the body. It’s why cops think they’re ODing and it’s probably why that security guard passed out at Astroworld — he felt something prick him, panicked, and passed out.

Finally, let’s talk about Satan. That’s right, I said it, Satan.

“9/11 in NY and 11/6at the astroworld in Houston TX is a Mirror Satanic Ritual..

The devil worshipping Travis Scott’s show was some real Hell unleashing it’s demons on them Sheeples with sound frequencies…People who attended their disturbingly felt Satanic vibes.

“Lamestream FAKENEWS are saying there were only 8 deaths due to the stamped (sic) and some fool in the crowd was running and injecting fans with some strange stuff..”

So the injection (that may or may not have happened) was ultimately caused by Satan himself.

And this isn’t just one person, this is a lot of people passing this idea around. It’s not really worth debunking but just as a heads up, again, the crush started before Scott even took the stage, which makes it….unlikely that his “sound frequencies” are what caused the “sheeples” to “stamped.”

But it’s interesting, because I think this is a natural human reaction to such a terrible event. It’s scary to think that any of us could suffocate to death while surrounded by other people, including police and medical personnel. And that while the cause IS those other people surrounding you and pressing into you, it’s not their fault. They don’t even want to do it, and they’re also being killed right next to you. And it’s ultimately the fault of authorities who made decisions hours, days, weeks, months, and years ago. You’re the victim of nothing more interesting than bureaucratic incompetence. Cost cutting. A lack of interest in the reams of data presented by researchers who study crowds and safety.

Honestly? I’d rather be mauled by a bear.

And plenty of other people would rather just tell themselves that this is due to anything else, but especially one evil person. Satan, or a rapper who is a tool of Satan, or a sociopath running around with a needle full of drugs. Sorry, but the truth is so much more boring and so much worse.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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One Comment

  1. A few years back I was with my ex and her daughter in Vinales, when I heard that the Stones were going to extend their Latin Americn tour by one date after CDMX — La Habana. The ex doesn’t care for them, but when I gingerly broached the subject of tweaking our itinerary, she looked at me as though I were crazy: “The Rolling Stones, for free, in Havana? YEAH BABY!!!!”

    So, as you probably know, it was the biggest rock concert in history, three times the size of Woodstock, a million five, really fun, and Cubans are very nice. But about 12 songs in, they started rolling out some nuggets, a la Satisfaction, Jumping Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women, Sympathy For The Devil, e.g., and my ex looked at me: “Ace….emmmmm…..I hate to be a dork…..but……emmmmm…..”

    I looked around and replied: “The Who? Cincinnati?”

    “Ummm, yeah…..”

    “No worries”, I replied, “lets listen to the last few by the exits.” There were three exits, about twice the size of your front door. And we were at about positions 850,000, 900,000 of the 1.5 million. So we walked through a very polite crowd back to about positions 1,499,995-to-1,499,998. There were still Jumbotrons, it was fine. My daughter asked me “is that the same guy as in the song ‘Move Like Jagger’?” I replied “yeah, I think so?” “And why is he with The Rolling Stones?” “Oh B, it’s gonna be a LONG walk to downtown Havana, I’ll explain that on the way.”

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