In early 2016, I first encountered claims being made by author David Paulides under the headline of Missing411. In his series of four books and numerous appearances on paranormal radio programs and podcasts, Paulides puts for the claim that people are going missing under unusual circumstances from national parks and that the National Park Service is either doing their best to hide this data or are at least negligent in their monitoring.
I took immediate interest in this topic as a skeptic because it's a formal claim that can be investigated analytically. I started looking into the 1000+ cases that Paulides has collected and deemed mysterious. I was able to confirm that these are indeed actually disappearances cases. Paulides has not made these up and his reporting of these cases is generally accurate and verifiable. What is missing, for me, is any element of mysteriousness.
The aspects Paulides points to as being mysterious range from unsurprising to enigmatic. He writes that search teams using canines find their dogs unable to pick up a scent. While I'm far from an expert on canine tracking abilities, it seems well within the realm of possibility that they should not be expected to have 100% accuracy. Further, cases for which canines do pick up a scent are negatively self-selecting in that the scent ought to lead the search time to a body - living or otherwise.
Paulides has identified a few surprising cases perhaps, but nothing that I find in any way inexplicable. Thus, the claims of "mysterious" circumstances don't hold up for me as a reader. Yet, could the frequency of disappearances be higher than expected. People do go missing. We can't expect a rate of 0% disappearances. Yet, Paulides does not bring an arguement about how the number of missing cases is higher than an expected baseline.
Another element of mystery discussed in the Missing411 series of books is the seemingly paradoxical find that many cases involve people removing clothing in cold conditions, when it makes no sense to do so. An attendee of my recent talk on this matter at the Monterey County Skeptics 2017 Skepticamp introduced me to the idea of paradoxical undressing, which seems to explain this aspect of the cases quite well.
For me to have my mind changed that there is anything suspicious going on related to the Missing411 conspiracy, I would need better evidence. Is there a specific claim about the frequency of missing persons cases? No. Is there any evidence for a formal conspiracy inside the National Park Service? None has been presented. Have any people gone missing and come back with wild tales of alien abduction or travels with transdimensional bigfoot? Not yet, although its well within the realm of possibility for the mythology to grow in this direction.
If you'd like to view my talk in it's entirety, you can find it below.