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Our Town
 Science File Information:
  • The episode begins with a the disappearance of a sanitation inspector in the woods of an Arkansas town built around a chicken processing plant. Residents of the town have reported seeing lights in the woods at night for years, so Mulder thinks that there's a posibility of UFO abduction involved. Of course there's the possibility that these lights have nothing to do with UFOs, but are actually manifestations of ball lightning. This curious phenomenon has yet to be fully explained by scientists, but theories abound. (However, in this case, Mulder's just a little off the mark--the lights happen to be something a little more mundane.)

    For more information on what is actually known about ball lightning, read two postings from the newsgroup sci.geo.meteorology at http://www-bprc.mps.ohio-state.edu/~bdaye/balligh.html.

  • When Mulder and Scully show up at the Chaco Chicken processing plant, one of the workers goes bezerk, is shot by a policeman, and falls face-first into a vat of chicken waste. Since she's dead, she doesn't really have a chance to admire the amazingly utilitarian way that chickens are slaughtered and processed for consumption. Some might say it's brutal and inhumane, but you decide for yourself.

    To read a decidedly biased exposition on the chicken production business, look to http://www.newveg.av.org/animals/chicketarian.htm. It's not well-documented, but with an objective perspective, you can find out a lot about chicken processing.

  • It turns out that both the plant worker (incidentally the granddaughter of Mr. Chaco himself) and the sanitation inspector had a rare illness called Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease (CJD, for short). CJD is a debilitating brain disease for which there is no cure. Much like Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, a.k.a., "Mad Cow Disease"), CJD is caused by rogue prions-- proteins gone bad--that create a plaque on the brain that eats holes in it and makes it appear spongy. Prions are unlike any other infectious agent (bacteria, viruses, etc.) in that they cannot be destroyed easily, and they contain no DNA or RNA.

    To learn more about CJD and BSE, read the The Why Files' detailed report on the subject at http://whyfiles.news.wisc.edu/012mad_cow/index.html.
    For a thorough, simply-written, and well-researched paper on BSE and CJD, read http://medicalreporter.health.org/tmr0596/madcow.html.
    To read another perspective on the transmission and nature of spongiform encephalopathies, go to http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/ may96/827547087.Vi.r.html (and scroll down to the answer to QUESTION 4).

  • As Mulder and Scully continue their investigation, they find evidence of cannibalism in the small town. Human bones are found in a local river with rounded ends--implying that they were boiled. It all leads back to an period of time that Old Man Chaco spent with a group of cannibals in the South Pacific. Cannibals in New Guinea ingested the brain tissue of dead relatives for religious reasons (that I do not know). This episode asserts that eating human brains increased longevity, and that Chaco brought this dark secret back to Dudley, Arkansas, from parts unknown. What Chaco didn't do his homework on was the fact that in remote tribes in the South Pacific where brain ingestion was practiced, there was an outbreak of Kuru in the 1950s. Kuru is a spongiform encephalopathy very similar to CJD, and its onset in the indiginous populations effectively ended the religious practice of eating grey matter.

    To read more about Kuru (along with the other diseases discussed above), check out http://www-micro.msb.le.ac.uk/335/Prions.html. To compare pictures of Kuru-infected tissue and BSE/CJD-infected tissue, go to http://cahpwww.nbc.upenn.edu/bse/bse_pict.html.

 File #:

Basic Plot:
Mulder and Scully investigate a strange disappearance in what turns out to be a town of cannibals.

Synopsis URLs:
Synopsis @ Official X-Files Site
Synopsis @ Deep Background

Title means:
"Our Town" is a classic play by Thornton Wilder, an American playwright. I'm sure there are plenty of parallels between the play and this episode, but I'll leave that for someone else to dissect.

End of science file.
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