SCP-6X57: Demographic Anomaly

This was written around March 2022, long after the completion of the Antimemetics tales on the SCP wiki.

This SCP essentially covers the same narrative ground as the epilogue of Antimemetics, Champions Of Nothing. Now, redundancy in storytelling is generally something to be avoided. I have eliminated content from Antimemetics because I felt it was redundant before, Haku being the primary example of this. So you might wonder why I decided to write it, after Antimemetics was completed, knowing ahead of time that it would be redundant.

The answer is that I had a feeling that this particular story beat might actually work really well as a standalone SCP. Although it shares continuity with Antimemetics, I felt that this SCP would actually read much better to someone who was unfamiliar with Antimemetics and had no context or explanation for what the SCP reveals. I hoped that the SCP would convey a kind of harsh, implacable, simple horror, in a very concise Series I or Series II style. With this in mind, my intention was to leave it out of the main Antimemetics reading list, and certainly not to incorporate it into the existing book editions of the story.

However, several people who read drafts of this independently remarked that if you are familiar with Antimemetics, the SCP comes off as redundant. A waste of the reader's time, even. I was concerned about this negative impact and so this stayed in my drafts page for over a year, with me unable to figure out whether to post it to the wiki or not. Now I've made up my mind not to post it to the wiki. So here it is, an official deleted scene.

Item #: SCP-6X57

Object Class: Euclid

Special Containment Procedures: SCP-6X57 is impossible to perceive or remember without the use of experimental Procedure-Λ' memory enhancement. As Procedure-Λ' was recently developed by the Foundation's Noöspherics Division and is not available outside of the Foundation, SCP-6X57 does not require special containment procedures.

Description: SCP-6X57 is an unexplained serious mismatch between predicted and observed local, national and global population demographics starting in 2019. This mismatch appears most strikingly in public world population charts produced by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the United States Census Bureau, the (independent) Population Reference Bureau and the Foundation's own Bureau of Global Statistics. All of these organisations are in very close agreement about the following basic figures:

In 2011, with an observed global population of 7,391,000,000 people growing at a rate of 1.21% per year, it was projected that the global population in 2019 would be approximately 8,137,000,000 people. However, as of 2019, the actual observed figure was 7,186,000,000 people.1

1 Note that population growth from 2019 to the present day has shown the same pre-2011 growth rate of 1.21% per year.

This represents an absolute decrease of 205,000,000 people, and an estimation shortfall of some 951,000,000 people. This shortfall applies uniformly across regions, age groups and sexes. The cause of the shortfall is unknown.

Global population estimation is extremely difficult, and subject to numerous sources of inaccuracy. Absent any other information, the most likely explanation for a shortfall of this magnitude would be a serious (non-anomalous) systematic error in estimation methodology. Hypothetically, this error affects all pre-2011 data, the error was corrected between 2012 and 2018, and data from 2019 onwards now show corrected estimates. However, there have been no significant changes in estimation methodology between 2011 and 2019. Moreover, this explanation does not account for two additional observations:

Firstly, SCP-6X57 has a novel anomalous property provisionally termed memory-negativity, whereby human observers2 are, for reasons yet to be determined, unable to perceive or remember it. When members of the general public are surveyed, the shortfall goes unquestioned, even when presented in its starkest form: a steadily rising global population chart with an obvious gap and drop between 2011 and 2019. When asked to redraw the chart from memory, people draw a smoothly increasing curve, with no discontinuities. Even population scientists — including Foundation staff at FBGS not having undergone Procedure-Λ' — appear to be uniformly unaware of their own estimation anomaly. When questioned about it, they demonstrate confusion, anxiety and sorrow. They are unable to explain their own observations, and are often unable to remember assembling the numerical data and charts which bear their name.

2 Including mentally humanoid AIs.

Secondly, population data from the years 2012 to 2018 inclusive are affected by a significantly stronger memory-negativity effect. Attempts to recover and study population data from these years, or simply to read figures off from population charts, fail, with or without the use of Procedure-Λ' memory enhancement. Without the aid of Procedure-Λ', even the fact that these data cannot be perceived or remembered cannot, itself, be perceived or remembered. This memory-negativity effect also affects other data sources which could be used as indirect population signifiers, such as global spending records, energy usage statistics, pollution indices, higher education attendance figures and hospital admissions figures. The data appear to be complete, as do news archives and historical records from the entire interval; however, analysis of the data with intent to uncover what happened fails.

Based on these observations, the Noöspherics Division's tentative conclusion is that the shortfall is genuine: sometime between 2011 and 2019, as many as 951,000,000 people disappeared, and this mass disappearance was "covered up" using extremely powerful anomalous memory-affecting technology which Foundation science is only now beginning to independently discover.

The proximate cause of the mass disappearance is unknown. The specific relationship between the mass disappearance and the memory effect which conceals it is unknown. Research intending to locate or at least identify any of the missing individuals is continuing. Research into improved memory enhancement techniques is continuing.

Discussion (20)

2023-05-21 10:35:10 by Leon:

I enjoyed this even having read There Is No Antimemetics Division a couple of times, but maybe I'm just a fanboy. Feels like it stands on it's own just fine

2023-05-22 12:51:41 by Jay:

I like this much more than Champions of Nothing. It also seems quite complementary to me, and not at all redundant.

2023-05-22 17:49:33 by Skaramuche:

I agree with the other commenters; even if you know TINAD, AND make the jump that this is connected to it, it's _still_ good and fun and functional as a kind of bonus track about how it looks to people looking back on it. And the majority of readers _wouldn't_ make those connections, in which case it's just a great, chilling little mystery. This could definitely stand on its own in the list.

2023-05-22 21:55:58 by Ded10c:

I feel like this makes one significant improvement on Champions of Nothing; the feeling that the destruction at the end of Tombstone might not be quite so total as the narrative depicted. The effects are there; if the Foundation's research into their cause continues, perhaps it may come upon the concept of 3125 again.

2023-05-23 08:49:50 by skztr:

This kind of dry "observations from people who are outside of the events" are one of my favorite forms of storytelling. Like in the diagram you made of "this is the part you know", "this is the part you reveal in the story", when there is so much more to a story than is directly revealed within it, I love that. To that end, I agree that this works best entirely detached from the antimemetics division stories.

2023-05-23 10:57:45 by Ded10c:

Dropping back to say that reading this yesterday and having the perhaps-unintended possibility of 3125's return fresh in my memory thoroughly enhanced the experience of reading SCP-6820 in the small hours of this morning. 5956 had been a uniquely dreadful read but this and 6820 together topped it in a way I don't think 6820 could have on its own, and I had a similar experience with 5000 not long after.

2023-05-24 18:18:58 by rob0ell:

I enjoyed this and feel that it's redundant, so much as it offers a second view of events that adds gravity to TINAD.

2023-05-24 18:19:39 by rob0ell:

^edit, it's NOT redundant. sorry about that.

2023-05-28 17:55:47 by gwern:

No, I think this one was better off cut. The timeline unavoidably makes it come off as some sort of very ham-handed COVID-19 allegory; even if the reader can't figure out what, exactly, the sense of lurking anviliciousness and partisan axgrinding drains it of enjoyment. The antimemetic effect itself isn't all that interesting, and mostly provokes in me carping about how this is supposed to work: how do all of the statistics get preserved accurately but then the effect only manifests at the global level, or is it supposed to also operate at national units, or how is this supposed to work if I am looking at, say, census tract units, or... And the direct addressing of the anomaly removes a lot of the potential horror, which makes antimemetics stories work so well - I think this entry would work better if it's left implicit rather than explicit, and not nominally an 'SCP' at all but, say, a blithe Foundation wiki technical note on an unfortunate overestimate of global population time-series up until recently, which has been since corrected, and analysts should be sure to avoid the pitfall of relying on overestimated obsolete statistics.

2023-06-20 10:33:43 by zaratustra:

has anyone considered this was simply caused by a change in the methodology in calculating what "humans" are

2023-06-22 22:45:38 by limon:

The article article feels redundant with the existence of Champions of Nothing, which I think does a better job as an epilogue to the series. To me, it is also weak as a standalone article. (Is that the real gwern?)

2023-06-27 15:19:03 by JReynolds:

Hey qntm. Just finished reading There Is No Antimemetics Division. Enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for writing it! (Found out about your stuff from your guest post on Charlie Stross's blog a couple of months back.)

2023-07-09 22:36:44 by Levana:

I find my favorite part of this is the completely independent terminology derived from having to build the science over again. It's not a "left hand doesn't know what the right is doing" thing like the Antimemetics and Counterconceptual divisions, but it's still very tasty.

2023-07-28 07:32:53 by Wu Wei:

It seems like I must be in the minority here, but I actually prefer this to Champions of Nothing. Though that may be a Series I nostalgia type of thing. It reads fine as standalone flash fiction, and to me, if you're already familiar with the Antimemetics series, most of the questions it raises are either answered by the series, unimportant, or fun to contemplate.

2023-07-28 20:00:45 by holomancy:

I really like this as a standalone SCP. The dry description of the memory-negativity everyone exhibits to route around the mass population loss and the mention of "confusion, anxiety and sorrow" when the truth's pointed out to them with no further detail is potent horror. (It did bring up some allegory feelings but I think that's really good, actually, and I kind of love it with that reading even more.)

2023-08-29 16:55:31 by callmesalticidae:

I really enjoyed this, and also enjoyed the antimemetics book. I don't think it's redundant or a waste of the reader's time or anything like that.

2023-08-30 04:38:10 by Funkoh:

This is a great tale and I had a good time reading it. However I feel that this would work greater as a cliff hanger rather than as an epilogue to the Antimemetic series due to how as someone mentioned, it hints at the return of 3125

2023-09-14 14:12:14 by MadcapPomposity:

"There Is No Antimemetics Division" just got a well-deserved endorsement in Penny Arcade's news post today.

2023-11-02 16:18:41 by DPR:

Most of the Antimemetic series is focused on individual human experiences giving a hint of what's going on at a global scale without actually describing the global situation. E.g. leaving it to the imagination how it's playing out elsewhere and what happened. "Show, don't tell" is one of the strongest suggestions for story crafting and this doesn't follow that (not that it has to, but there has to be a rather compelling reason to deviatr, in my opinion). This story is the opposite. Clinical, sterile, no personal connection, leaves nothing to the imagination, focused on the grand scale of things and doesn't zoom in on any characters. So my opinion isn't that it's redundant, but that it doesn't fit. It works on its own apart from the rest of the content because it's a different style of storytelling.

2024-03-13 13:59:07 by rho:

I'm not sure who told you this was redundant, because to me, this is chilling in the best possible way. champions of nowhere was a great ending — but this offers a kind of perspective it didn't. it's a means of going: "here is the actual scale, and the real-life living history this drew from", in a way that can't easily be ignored or misinterpreted. some messages deserve to be screamed from the rooftops.

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