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Weather Denial and Fake News: A California Rainmaker in the Canadian Prairies

Thu, March 26, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Delta Ottawa City Centre, Floor: Conference, Chaudiere

Abstract

In 1921, on the heels of three consecutive parched Prairie summers, the United Agricultural Association of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada hired Charles M. Hatfield to make it rain. Hatfield was a professional rainmaker from California who had plied his trade from Texas to the Klondike, always on the terms “no rain, no pay.” When Hatfield arrived in Medicine in May 1921, it was with an agreement that if he produced 4 inches of rain over the next 3 months, he would earn $8000. Media from across Canada, the US, and Europe joined Prairie farmers in watching to see whether he would succeed.

This is a story with a number of surprising resonances to today: it is a story of a populist conman, an exploitable media, a culture dubious of modern meteorological science, and that science fighting desperately to establish its authority. Even more than a battle between science and folk wisdom, I see it as a battle between facts and opinions. My paper will focus on the debate between newspapers -- even within newspapers -- that summer as to how much -- even whether -- it rained in Southern Alberta, whether this was normal rain, and the degree to which it was all thanks to the rainmaker.

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