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Scully Syndrome

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"Mulder there must be a rational explanation even though I am always wrong."
"Agent Scully", pictures for sad children

A self-applied case of Weirdness Censor by a character, particularly one considered or who considers themselves rational or skeptical. When a sufferer of Scully Syndrome attempts to offer a "rational" explanation for a supernatural situation, they will usually end up offering an explanation that is itself so tortuous, convoluted and/or improbable that it also ceases to be rational. This explanation may draw upon things that are seemingly more plausible and 'realistic' than the supernatural explanation, but the way it puts these things together is unlikely or full of holes. The Epileptic Trees invoked by the characters — who, ironically, are usually trying to debunk someone else's Epileptic Trees — are so ludicrous that the viewers want to bash the character's head against the wall, all while pointing out that accepting the supernatural explanation would, in fact, be simpler. The character also has a tendency to ignore any evidence of the supernatural that they might be presented with, no matter how conclusive, in favour of presenting more 'rational' explanations that are just as (if not more) lacking in supporting evidence.


As a hypothetical example, take the climax of Ghostbusters (1984), which involves an ancient evil god from another dimension, which has taken on the form of a fifty-foot advertising mascot made entirely out of marshmallow, striding through the streets of Manhattan. In this form, it attacks the roof of a Manhattan apartment building in full view of the public in an attempt to open a portal to another dimension and destroy the world, before itself being vaporized in a massive fiery explosion that covers an entire city block in liquid marshmallow. That is all, admittedly, a fairly difficult set of events to believe in, and if Agent Scully were investigating it, she might explain this as all being just a big hoax. The titular Ghostbusters merely staged the marshmallow man and used a combination of a fancy light show and hallucinogenic substances to fool the credulous people below into believing they were witnessing a supernatural event. Which actually makes sense on the surface...


But don't pat yourself on the back just yet, Scully. If you think about it for more than five seconds, there's a lot that the seemingly "rational" explanation doesn't actually explain at all, or which itself requires increasingly convoluted and improbable further explanations which only poke even more holes in the logic. For instance, how and where does one even get enough marshmallow to make a fifty-foot marshmallow man and leave its remains scattered over the streets of New York City? How much would that cost, and why is there no record of such a massive purchase? How and where does one make said marshmallow man, and hide it away from everyone until the absolute right moment? How do you get it to move and act convincingly? How do you get it to move at all, for that matter? How do the Ghostbusters set up their "light show" at the building without anyone noticing? The monster steps on a church at one point — how do you stage that? In fact, the opening of the portal creates earthquakes, lightning storms and unseasonal instantaneous storm clouds that block out the sun — how could the Ghostbusters create earthquakes, control the weather and turn day into night? How does one spread enough hallucinogens to dose an an entire city without anyone noticing, and then manage to ensure that everyone has the same hallucination at the same time — which is also the time you need them to hallucinate? And for that matter, how do you control what kind of hallucinations someone has; wouldn't a massive crowd all be hallucinating wildly different things even if given the same drug? When did the Ghostbusters wire the apartment building to blow, including the apartments of several residents? And ultimately, even if you could do all of this, it would all take a lot of effort, and you'd probably need a lot of people to help you do it, all of whom will have to have some kind of motivation to keep quiet — such as as a lot of money. The Ghostbusters are just four guys — how did they manage to do this all by themselves without involving anyone else?


In short, however incredible it may seem, isn't the explanation that this is a god taking on the form of a marshmallow man actually the simpler, more rational, more supported-with-evidence explanation at this point?

As alluded to above, a marking feature of Agent Scully. Compare Invisible to Normals, Arbitrary Skepticism, Flat-Earth Atheist. Not to be confused with the real Weinstein Kliman Scully syndrome.

It is important to note that, the most common interpretation of Occam's Razor aside, the simplest explanation isn't always the correct one.note  Sufferers of Scully Syndrome aren't always wrong. Many frauds and con-jobs have relied on people being willing to believe a simple explanation without stopping to consider that someone might actually engage in some highly improbable and unbelievable course of action if they think they'll benefit from doing so. Scully Syndrome is not a problem because skepticism of the supernatural and unlikely or a belief in the rational are bad in and of themselves. It is a problem because it allows someone to use rationalism as an excuse to not consider any possibilities that challenge or disprove their current beliefs or worldview, even when those alternative possibilities are actually valid and supported with evidence. That Agent Scully doesn't automatically and unquestioningly believe aliens did it is fine, but it's when Agent Scully starts constructing equally implausible "rational" narratives rather than accepting the evidence that aliens, against all odds, actually did do it that it starts to become an issue.

In other words, while Agent Mulder might risk becoming too credulous and easily fooled thanks to his open-mindedness, thanks to this trope, Agent Scully risks becoming too closed-minded and inflexible.

See also Arkham's Razor, where the strangest answer to a problem is the correct one. Contrast this trope with Refuge in Audacity, where someone does go to extreme lengths to pull off something unlikely, banking on the fact that no one will believe they were willing to do so.


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     Anime and Manga  

  • Happens to Cilan in Pokémon the Series: Black & White during the course of the museum episode. He keeps suggesting ridiculous things to explain the mysterious circumstances, even though it becomes increasingly clear that there is a ghost, like Iris suggested. Subverted when it's revealed that they're both wrong - it was a Ghost Pokémon.
    • This concept was recycled later in Pokémon the Series: XY, this time with a Psychic Pokémon. Why Pokémon aren't the obvious solution is anyone's guess.
  • People in Negima! Magister Negi Magi seem to have a lot of respect for the capabilities of CGInote . Similarly, Chisame goes to great lengths to not accept the existence of magic 'til everything she's seen effectively forces her to. It is explained that humans have some sort of strong natural tendency to not believe in magic, and high-magic places have spells cast on them to boost this effect. In the Bad Future, it ended up taking a global-scale Reverse Polarity to break this skepticism.
    • Chisame is interesting because she seems to have no Weirdness Censor (and actually complains whenever someone else comes up with an absurd explanation for magic)—she just really does not want magic to be real.
  • Downplayed by L of Death Note fame who had the good grace to head off this sort of thing (omnipresent worldwide CIA assassins were suggested) pretty early on. Whenever alternate suggestions are brought up, he explains his reasoning for believing that is not the case. Still, he is only fully believed (and backed) by the world's leaders when he proves his theory that Kira is a serial killer somehow able to cause heart attacks from miles away.
  • Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou: Souishirou. Despite his big sister being a mage, and the fact that people arround him get involved in all sorts of magical troubles, he remain firmly skceptical. Even when he see magic performed right in front of his own eyes, he insist that it is just a trick. Magic have absolutely no effect on him, because his sister unknowingly made him invulnerable to it when he was a child.

     Comic Books  

  • In Hellblazer, Dr. Thirteen exemplifies this trope perfectly
    • In The Books of Magic, the Hellblazer himself, Jonathan Constantine, has actually mentioned that due to his skepticism, magic really doesn't work for Dr. Thirteen. His disbelief in magic is strong enough that it causes magic around him to fail even when it should work, thus justifying his skepticism further. Ironically enough, his own daughter, Traci Thirteen, is a powerful mage in her own right.
    • Another explanation comes from Grant Morrison's Zatanna mini-series. There Dr. Thirteen joins Zatanna and a few other DC universe occultists for a seance/spiritual voyage. He seems to at least in some way experience what his companions experience, but he explains everything through quantum physics, not spiritualism or the occult.
  • Mr. Terrific from Justice Society of America is an adamant atheist despite encountering many god like beings and witnessing the use of magic many times; due to this he was unable to communicate with Gog.

  • In Cloverfield, Hud suggests several possible origins for the monster. Rob observes that it doesn't really matter right now.
  • The outright extreme example that occurs in between Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (and is an important piece of the Happy Ending Override) is explained above. The fact that the events of the first film temporarily calmed down the supernatural in New York City so the Ghostbusters couldn't find work also didn't helped any.
  • Graham and Merrill from Signs stubbornly cling to the belief that the Crop Circles on their farm are an elaborate prank courtesy of Lionel Pritchard and the Wolfington Brothers, even as this possibility becomes less and less plausible.
  • Red Lights: Tom Buckley is a physicist helping to expose fraudulent paranormal activities, such as mediums or performing miracle workers. In the end, we discover that the strange events revolving around Silver - birds smashing into windows, electronics exploding, rooms shaking - is not Silver's doing, but Buckley's. He himself is a psychic, working to refute the frauds in order to discover another such as himself.
  • The police in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) are quick to assume Tina was knifed to death by her boyfriend and nothing out of the ordinary happened- in spite of the fact that she was obviously raked across the ceiling at some point and the blood is there to prove it. The fact that no one offers a "rational" explanation for Glen's insane Overdrawn at the Blood Bank death in the third act shows no one knows what to believe anymore.

  • The Dresden Files does this. It hams up the "humanity is just too stupid and frightened to accept magic" message. In parallel, it points out that our capabilities have been growing rapidly, so while hordes of angry muggles was always the equivalent of the nuclear option ... now we come with the literal variant, too.
    • The most balanced account of it all is Murphy's, from her POV short story. She's Harry's best friend and always has his back in a fight, but it's hard to not be terrified of the sheer difference in power. Imagine you were a puppy covering a bear's back. Even if the bear is on your side... it's still a bear. Now imagine it's the strength of a bear wrapped in the vulnerability of a puppy. Wouldn't you be frightened of it?
    • In one instance, following a rain of toads, Billy says that the news will probably blame it on a freak whirlwind. Harry replies, "You'd think 'It's magic' would be easier to accept than that."
    • Similarly, a magic storm and pitched battle in Chicago will fade into memory as Halloween shenanigans and hallucinations from bad food.
    • People who do find out about the supernatural and start looking too hard at it can rapidly get into serious trouble in the Dresdenverse. Examples would include Harry's former girlfriend Susan and his current apprentice, Molly Carpenter.
    • At one point he even says that most people's subconscious has a kind of built-in Weirdness Censor, because if they were to acknowledge some of the strange things they saw as magical or supernatural, it might well drive them insane. Their minds automatically search for a mundane explanation, without their necessarily even being aware of it.
    • The series has the three swords, each with a nail of the Cross worked in; Faith, Hope, and Love, wielded by Knights of the Cross, who take their marching orders directly from archangels and tend to have minor Deus ex Machinas happen when convenient. The Knight with the most presence in the series is a devout Catholic. The second is an agnostic, who insists that Michael the Archangel, who personally gave him the Sword, could be some sort of extraterrestrial being rather than an actual representative of the Almighty. As long as he can come up with any alternative explanations, he's not committing one way or another.
  • The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul has a lengthy bit about this, justifying Dirk's conviction that the impossible is more likely than the improbable.
  • Parodied in Jingo, when religious nut Constable Visit-the-Infidel-with-Explanatory-Pamphlets is talking about deity-invoked rains of objects to the skeptical Constable Shoe. He runs down a list, and Shoe's rebuttals get weirder and weirder, until eventually Visit mentions a "Sudden and miraculous rain of rain." Shoe replies in exactly the same sort of wording he used before: "Probably solar energy caused water to evaporate from the surface of a body of water, which then condensed into clouds that wind carried across the country, where cold air currents caused the droplets to recondense and fall as liquid water." In other words, the precise scientific explanation for rain. In the same exchange, was a "miraculous rain of elephants." When pressed, Visit concedes, "Well, it was just one elephant, but it made quite a splash."
  • In Left Behind—no one except the main characters ever thinks of the mass disappearances as being caused by the Rapture, even though premillennialism is a well-known theological concept. Some possible explanations are rational enough, but everyone believes the Antichrist's bizarre "nuclear warheads-electromagnetism-Negative Space Wedgie" theory. (Main characters, on the other hand, act as if they've read the book jacket.)
    • For that matter, this is a problem with 95% of Rapture-themed fiction - much of it seems to act as if only a tiny number of people are vaguely familiar with the Book of Revelation, and to the extent they are, they Scully-style dismiss it even when crazy events are exactly following the script.
  • In Inferno (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle), Allen Carpentier's attempts to interpret his experiences as a product of super-advanced technology may be more unreasonable than accepting the reality that Hell exists and he's in it.
  • A major element in the works of G. K. Chesterton:
    • Discussed in The Hole In The Wall, where it forms the key to the story's plot. As a main character puts it, if you go into a town which has an inn by the name of St. George and the Dragon, and tell everyone that it's a corruption of King George and the Dragoon, a lot of people will believe you on no evidence just because it sounds mundane. Similarly, when someone decided to say that Prior's Park (the estate where the mystery takes place) was not a priory, but the dwelling of a Mr. Prior, nobody ever asked whether anyone had heard of Mr. Prior or whether there were any records of him. In actual fact, the place was a priory. Finally, and most importantly, the district is spelt Holinwall on the maps, and the educated mock the peasantry for pronouncing it Holiwell. But it is spelt wrong and pronounced right. There was a holy well, and a certain corpse was dumped down that well earlier.
    • In one of the episodes of The Poet And The Lunatics, the Villain of the Week suffers from a horrifyingly virulent strain of this and grows increasingly obsessed with reversing and breaking superstitions, until he slits a man's throat in sheer terror when the man threatens to act even once in accord with superstition.
    • Morris Carleon in Magic: A Fantastic Comedy, suffers from very nearly as nasty a strain. In his case, when he proves unable to explain how a conjuror pulled off one of his tricks, he collapses into gibbering madness within minutes.
    • While Squire Vane's strain of the Syndrome in The Trees of Pride is not as virulent, the consequences are even nastier. There happened to be a myth that certain oddly-colored trees on the Squire's lands, called the peacock trees, gave forth poisonous fumes and caused fevers if you came near them. A local doctor soon realized that a certain disease rampant in that neighborhood struck everyone who came near the trees, and only those who came near the trees. In short, the peacock trees were poisonous. But the Squire was adamant in his refusal to accept that the legends might have any grain of truth, no matter how many hundreds and thousands of deaths the doctor could point to as evidence.
  • Discussed in The Hound of the Baskervilles; at several points, Dr. Watson hears a horrible baying noise over the mires which can only be a massive dog, and which the superstitious locals attribute to the titular Hound, a fearsome and murderous Hell Hound supposedly haunting a nearby wealthy family. Watson scoffs at the supernatural explanation, but admits that he's currently hard-pressed to offer a more rational explanation because there are several gaping holes in any explanation that he can think of which seemingly can't be answered away. Of course, this is a Sherlock Holmes story, so those logical and rational explanations actually are there; it just takes Sherlock Holmes himself to uncover them, put them together and fill in the gaps.
  • Warrior Cats: Has Mothwing who tries to explain medicine cats' future-predicting dreams as just smart cats working out predictions unconsciously, though this still leaves a lot of questions - like why these dreams have such high accuracy and how leaders end up getting nine lives from communicating with StarClan.
  • Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy: Jill goes into great detail about why she can only pick certain locks and why she can't simply kick open the ones she can't, which was an Acceptable Break From Reality in the game but would be a Plot Hole in a book. Being a former Classy Cat-Burglar in this version, she thoroughly examines a door and finds that the locking mechanism is so unique and special that even she has no clue how to get it open without a key, and then when she considers kicking it open she finds that the door and the frame are so heavily reinforced that she has no hope in hell of breaking it with her strength alone. She then considers shooting out the lock but fears that the bullet may ricochet and hurt her (an actual concern in real life). It's even her first clue that there's something fishy about the mansion itself, as no regular mansion would ever do such a thing with interior doors. Barry on the other hand has no problem booting open one of these reinforced doors when he saves Jill from becoming a Jill Sandwich because, as a scene in an earlier chapter of him casually carrying a duffel bag that weighed well over 100 pounds implied, he's just that strong.
  • The Master and Margarita: The devil in human form visits Moscow and wreaks havoc there. After he leaves, the Soviet authorities are left with the problem of how to explain all the supernatural goings-on. They settle upon "mass hypnosis". Apparently the mysterious foreign visitor is a skilful hypnotist who can, for example, convince an entire theatre that money bills are raining from the ceiling. What, then, about that one guy who was transported in an instant from Moscow to Sochi on the Black Sea? Why, he never was in Sochi; he was only hypnotized to believe he was. But what about all those people in Sochi who saw him there and talked to him? Why, they were hypnotized as well; apparently the visiting stranger can perform such prodigious feats as hypnotize people from more than a thousand kilometers away!
  • Pale: Has Sharon Griggs who's turned this into her own personal superpower and addiction, because of the Magical Underpinnings of Reality kept innocent people like Sharon from discovering magic those same underpinnings can kill magical creatures if they aren't careful around innocents. Around Sharon they can start evaporating when she gets close, worse this also applies to magical bindings that keep dangerous Others and run away magic contained so she's doubly dangerous.

     Live Action TV  
  • Named after Dana Scully of The X-Files, who was particularly adamant in her denial of the supernatural. As their encounters with fairly obvious supernatural cases grew this got quite ridiculous. As put it: "After personally witnessing aliens, a cannibal mutant, psychic children, vengeful ghosts, mind-controlling insects, the ghost of an alien, pyrokinesis, the ghost of her father, shape-shifters, body-switching, reverse-aging, faith-healing, a telepathic frozen human head, a radioactive leech-man, subliminal mind control, vampires, Native American sorcery, precognition, astrology, gargoyles, telekinesis, Chinese sorcery, a sea monster, a golem, past life regression, Frankenstein's Monster, a demon-possessed doll, a giant intelligent shape-shifting beetle monster, time travel, demonic possession, psychic weather control, the Grim reaper, time loops, zombies, doppelgangers, a giant human bat, voodoo, alternate dimensions, transmogrification, a kid that can command insects, another golem, a genie and an ancient piece of potter inscribed with the words of Jesus that can raise the dead, Scully continues to mock Mulder for believing in the paranormal." In Dana Scully's and the series defense, this trope did get downplayed as the series went on and she got used to the supernatural being the usual suspect.
    • Subverted in Coprophages which has, for the first half of the show, Scully sitting back at home cooking up one naturalistic explanation after another for the peculiar deaths and the cockroach infestation... and being right on all counts.
    • Inverted when Agent John Doggett is introduced later in the series. At this point, with her history, Scully is more apt to jump to outlandish theories, with Doggett continually Scullying HER.
    • Also inverted when the phenomena were religious in nature. Then she'd turn into the believer, and Mulder the skeptic, to the same degree of certainty in either case.
    • Scully is given the opportunity to defend herself on several occasions, however:
      Mulder: Why is it still so hard for you to believe, even when all the evidence suggests extraordinary phenomena?
      Scully: Because sometimes looking for extreme possibilities makes you blind to the probable explanation right in front of you.
  • The main characters of Supernatural, although aware of the supernatural, argue frequently about whether the case of the week is up their alley. It always is.
    • Except for 1.15, "The Benders", when the monster was revealed to be a family who kidnap, hunt, and cannibalize their human prey and 4.11, "Family Remains", where it was a psychotic brother and sister, born from the rape of a girl by her own father, living in the walls.
  • T'Pol from Star Trek: Enterprise continued repeating that "The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined time-travel to be impossible" long after any vaguely logical person should have at least started thinking of it as a real possibility. She actually used this as a mantra to defeat interrogation by someone who asked what she knew about specific time travelers she'd had contact with. After that, she time-traveled.
  • Lost: Jack Shepherd adamantly refuses to believe in the supernatural because his daddy issues compel him to fix every problem in the world through sheer willpower, and surrendering control to the supernatural gets in the way of that. Even when he physically witnesses the Island move, he still doesn't believe it. However, when he realizes the supernatural is the only way to fix the problem of rescuing the people left behind on the Island, he abandons his skepticism and turns into a zealot for the supernatural...who's every bit as stubborn about his own convictions.
  • The muggles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer can come up with various wacky explanations for supernatural events, at some points simply blocking out the memories entirely (in one episode, when everyone in town lost their voices, the news blamed it on laryngitis).
    • Buffy herself lampshades it in "The Pack", when she tells Giles (i.e. the guy who convinced her to believe in all sorts of demonic/supernatural weirdness) "I cannot believe that you, of all people, are trying to Scully me."
  • In Medium, Allison's husband, Joe, will greet 90% of his wife's prophecies with skepticism, despite the fact that they will always prove to be meaningful if not completely true. This is justified because Allison's visions appear as metaphors (mostly in her dreams) that she rarely correctly interprets the first time around. Allison also has a tendency to believe that her visions give her the moral obligation to take illegal action. For instance, there was one time that she kidnapped a baby from his mother in order to save the baby from a death she foresaw in a vision..
  • Discussed and inverted in Jonathan Creek — Jonathan, who makes a living designing magic tricks, points out that his whole profession revolves around people accepting that something occurred by "magic" rather than believing that someone actually would undertake a convoluted, unlikely and complicated series of events just to make something look like it occurred by magic. Furthermore, that no matter how much people claim to want to know how it happened they're inevitability disappointed when it's revealed to them just how mundane the events were.
  • One of Castle's Running Gags is having Castle come up with flatly silly theories to explain unusual crime scenes, often involving things like ninjas or the CIA.


  • Fortean Times delights in calling out skeptics and rationalists for this sort of thinking, arguing that it is no sort of explanation for anomalous phenomena when the "explanation" is more labored, tortuous and convoluted than a simple acceptance that something strange has happened, which is inexplicable by accepted science. Of course, skeptics and rationalists in turn often point out that something not yet having a credible explanation is not the same as something being completely without an explanation. Also how in many cases, explanations presented by believers involve either flawed recollections of events or deliberate attempts at fraud.

     Newspaper Comics  

  • Calvin and Hobbes. One-half of the title duo is subject to Scullying by everyone except the other half (nobody but Calvin and Hobbes see Hobbes for what he is. However it's left ambiguous as to what his nature is).

     Tabletop Games  

  • Human beings are literally forced to do this sort of thing to themselves in Mage: The Awakening, as their minds are mystically warped to deny the presence of magic due to the Lie. Should a human's mind not be able to take the strain of denial, the human will either go insane or Awaken and become a mage him-or-herself.
  • The Hindrance "Doubting Thomas" in Deadlands is exactly this. The character does not believe in the supernatural, and even after being dragged kicking and screaming into admitting that supernatural things exist (i.e. even after encountering something that can't be explained rationally), they still insist to try to explain everything "rationally" first. This in the setting where the supernatural is pretty much commonplace, including player characters.
  • The World of Darkness universe uses this to explain why humanity as a whole does not believe in magic or supernatural creatures. As a player in the Mage universe you need to shape the magic to be "realistic" to a bystander i.e. The guy wasn't blasted by a wizard with a lightning bolt, he was killed by a power surge through the TV he was standing next too. To stretch reality to far as a Mage brings about Paradox which will force you to pay for violating reality around normal people. Werewolves invoke a form of mass hysteria where onlookers believe they are seeing a junkie or some such throwing people around like ragdolls. Vampires require the Masquerade to be maintained to prevent humanity from realizing there is a threat in their midst and stamping out vampire kind en masse. These mechanics are supposed to make playing characters reign in their more destructive nature until they can really let loose in private or secluded areas. Then the fun times begin with the yelling and the screaming and the wanton bloodshed.
  • In Warhammer Fantasy the Empire is this to the Skaven, they can accept magic in most forms but not the existence of a race of ratmen, explaining them away as beast men or madness. This view is kept even though they have been at war with them.
    • In this case this is enforced by the authorities, who do know that there is a massive civilization of Ratmen beneath them but feel this being general knowledge would be too alarming. So those who have seen the Skaven have simply seen mutants or Beastmen who happened to look a bit ratlike, not a completely separate race, despite the fact that no other Beastmen look like that and mutants aren't that uniform in appearance.

     Video Games  

  • Nearly every character in the Chzo Mythos series apart from the main characters.
  • Path of Exile: Niles is a Flat-Earth Atheist who despite being a Templar for years, firmly believes the gods are a myth. If the entirety of Act 2 has anything to show, that's not true. He wasn't there to see it first-hand, which conveniently let him maintain his insane conspiracy theories of what the divine phenomenons actually are. He thinks the Templars faked a cannibal god rampaging and consuming an an entire nation's populace. Even when his attempts to prove the gods don't exist backfired, he thinks his methods aren't working as intended. This is on top of the fact he's a mind reader, and he thinks the witnesses have something More than Mind Control going on in them. As for what he thinks you were doing when you were directly slaying the gods? Probably breathing in too much crypt gas.
  • Invoked by Yukari in Persona 3 while solving the mystery behind the hospitalization of three girls at the school. Somewhat justified in that Yukari was looking into ridiculous things to prove that it wasn't ghosts, which was Junpei's (joking) suggestion. Why the cast didn't just assume it was the work of the Shadows to begin with is still ridiculous, however.

     Visual Novels  

  • Umineko: When They Cry has a very... special version of this trope: All murders are shown using unreliable narration where the characters are murdered using magic, and the protagonist has to come up with (often bizarre) explanations for the mysterious murders in order to deny witches (as magic does not actually exist unless people accept it exists). It is IMPLIED there is a much simpler solution...but Battler is Incompetent.


  • A major Running Gag of The Unspeakable Vault (of Doom) is that the human characters, when faced with the lampooned Lovecraftian star of the series, give an even more ludicrous explanation for what they saw or heard than the obvious alien-gods-of-madness explanation.
  • Besides of its blatant parody of the original character and her opposite counterpart, Sluggy Freelance has Kent, who after being attacked by vampires and among other things seeing one turn to dust before his eyes spoke of having been attacked by "Vampire LARPers"; Dr. Lorna, whose reaction to seeing her coworker turn into a demon was "You must be on drugs, because drugs cause hallucinations and I must be hallucinating"; and the "Nifty News 50" broadcast, which explained a brief epidemic of zombies (well, deadels) as mass hysteria caused by Marilyn Manson (somehow).
  • Parodied in Homestuck when John texts his suspicion that there's monsters in his house.
    TG: dude monsters arent real
    TG: thats stupid kids stuff for stupid babies

    EB: maybe. yeah you're right.
    TG: what are you an idiot
    TG: of course there are monsters in your house
    TG: youre in some weird evil monster dimension come on
  • Schlock Mercenary: One arc has the Tagons on a tropical resort and losing one of their own to a giant shark. Except there are no sharks on that world (it was grown in a secret gene-lab by a Mad Scientist), so the local police keep finding new and inventive reasons for the Toughs to be behind the attacks. At the end of the arc the Toughs' attorney is suing the cops for "impersonating a police force".
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: In the comic's world, Flat-Earth Atheist is the default mindset in Sweden and Denmark and the head of the expedition's Mission Control is Swedish. The story reaches a point where the Finnish mage staying at headquarters has to help the expedition crew long-distance in the middle of the night, which results in a Power-Strain Blackout and huge burn marks on the floor of the room in which he was casting. The following chapter reveals the mission control head to have come to the conclusion that the mage got hit by lightning while inside the house, on a night giving no indication of being stormy.

     Western Animation  

  • In the Family Guy episode "Petergeist", Lois tells Brian there are no such things as ghosts, after seeing supernatural occurrences. When she sees chairs and the refrigerator upside down on the kitchen table, she concludes that she must have accidentally stacked all those things upside down and then just forgot about it.
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Peggy is involved in a magic trick in which she seemingly disappears from a flaming pinata and reappears at her table. Hank, who does not believe in magic, attempts to come of with increasingly ludicrous ways in which she escaped, while Peggy insists it was just magic. Subverted in The Stinger, which reveals the perfectly rational way the trick was performed, but was never considered by Hank.
  • The end of Scooby-Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost ended with Velma falling into this, trying to convince the others that the whole mystery was yet another "Scooby-Doo" Hoax and the events of The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo were just some sort of oxygen-deprivation induced hallucination. In that case, it's less that Velma was trying to find a rational explanation and more her desperately not wanting to admit ghosts and magic are real.

     Real Life  

  • After a red rain in India, a local "scientist" decided to come up with a "scientific" explanation to counter the peoples' supernatural explanations for the "blood." It was a convoluted and downright-silly explanation involving bats killed at high altitude by a meteor (the actual cause was red algae - not paranormal, but nowhere near as ridiculous as the bat blood).
  • Any and every attempt to scientifically justify the existence of real-life vampires. "Explanations" include schizophrenia, diabetes, rabies, and porphyria, both of which actually fail miserably. Aside from the diseases not doing what they think they do (you can't treat porphyria by drinking blood, for example), the vampires they're usually trying to explain were the product of Hollywood and 20th century literature. Older vampire legends are much more like zombie, revenant or ghost stories; their behavior doesn't resemble sufferers from rabies or porphyria.
    • On the other hand, comparing pre-Victorian vampire accounts to modern understandings of how corpses decompose is very enlightening.
  • Young Earth creationists like Kent Hovind who try to "scientifically" explain miracles in the Bible, and let's just leave it at that.
    • Many fundamentalists of all religions do this. Which is, come to think of it, counterproductive - a miracle is simply God deciding to override the rules of the Universe for a moment, and a "scientific explanation" requires these rules to bend in weird, improbable ways on their own accord.
  • Many a Conspiracy Theorist falls victim to this. In many cases, the "alternate" explanation is so convoluted that, if it was even possible to pull off in the first place, it would be impossible to keep hidden; either conscious whistle-blowing or sheer incompetence would lead to the truth being revealed sooner or later.
  • "Adding epicycles" is an expression for adding ad-hoc and unreasonable complexities to a theory in order to make it consistent with new observations. The basis of the phrase is historical attempts to make geocentrism consistent with the observed movements of the planets by proposing that they orbit around Earth in paths with inner loops or "epicycles". Heliocentrism is a much simpler explanation (however the theories first proposed for it still had many holes).
    • And now string theorists are resurrecting the fashion, constantly adding more dimensions to balance equations.
  • Many sightings of unexplained "ghost lights" (which are often thought to be UFOs, or some supernatural thing) have been blamed on burning swamp gas. This is rather unlikely as, for one, the conditions for swamp gas to spontaneously ignite are rather unlikely to occur in nature, and two, when swamp gas has been ignited in lab experiments, it behaves nothing like how the stereotypical ghost lights work, instead just burning a blue-green color for a few seconds before burning out. This isn't to say there's no possible mundane explanation, just that "burning swamp gas" isn't it.