Conspiritorial Thinkings

It's times like this that I wish Futurama video clips were more readily available.I’m working on a project for an independent study, and I’m writing a bit on conspiracy theories. For some reason, though it’s a rich mine for exercising skepticism, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of overlap between the scientific/skeptical blogs I usually frequent and the good conspiracy debunking sites. I’m curious as to why that is, though I suspect that it’s because debunking some of the more popular conspiracy theories requires (or at least benefits from) detailed knowledge of information that falls outside the purview of most science bloggers.

So the science blogs often stick with what they know: Phil Plait tackles the Moon Hoax theorists and UFO folks, PZ goes after the “Big Science” nuttiness, Orac tackles the “Big Pharma” nuts, antivaccination activists, and Holocaust deniers, and so forth. We go after what’s falls near or within our particular expertise, and that’s understandable.

But what of the stuff that falls outside our collective scientific expertise? What of the Kennedy assassination, or the Illuminati, or the death of Paul McCartney? Sure, there are historians and so forth to tackle those, but it seems like the skeptical community could do a bit more to promote reason in those categories.

Even without having the requisite historical knowledge, there are things we can tackle about conspiracies in general–the same kinds of fallacies and errors in thought that we deal with in other areas. For instance:

  • Arguments from ignorance/personal incredulity: Like various arguments for dualism, creationism, and other woo, much of what I’ve heard from conspiracy theorists rests on things that are “impossible”–it’s impossible to travel safely through the Van Allen Belt, Lee Harvey Oswald couldn’t have fired three shots from his rifle in such a short time, airplane crashes couldn’t possibly cause the twin towers to fall the way they did, and so on. We’re rarely told how this standard of possibility was developed, and it often boils down to “well, it’d be really hard to believe that,” which is not any kind of evidence. Regardless, the claim that a thing is impossible requires some justification of its own, and even such a demonstration would not be evidence for an alternative hypothesis.
  • Elevation of Eyewitness Evidence: This is the conspiracy equivalent of the premium that alties and antivaxers put on anecdotal evidence. If someone claims to have seen strange, impossibly fast, lighted triangular ships in the sky, then we must take their claims at face value and count them as evidence for alien spacecraft. If someone claims that they heard explosions at Ground Zero, then it’s clear evidence that 9/11 was a staged demolition. No attention whatsoever is given to human error; to the conspiracy theorist, eyewitnesses are apparently immune to faulty or false memories, optical illusions, pareidolia, and being mistaken. No attention is given to the witness’s expertise–if the layman says he saw molten steel at the bottom of a pit at Ground Zero, then it certainly must have been steel and not any of a number of other metals or other substances found in office buildings with lower melting points, it must have been steel. Conspiracy theorists often attach a perfection to the testimony of eyewitnesses that is not warranted when you consider the realities of memory and perception. This basic truth is known to the police and others in law enforcement, yet somehow the myth of the unimpeachable witness persists in conspiracy theories.
  • Cherry-picking: Which leads directly to the next point, cherry-picking the data. Conspiracy theorists tend to latch onto the one bit of evidence that supports their conjecture, even if the vast majority of similar evidence opposes them. If hundreds of eyewitnesses said they saw a passenger jet hit the Pentagon, and a handful say they saw a smaller plane, the conspiracy theorists will often ignore the vast majority in favor of the dissenting view. As with the point about eyewitness testimony, expertise doesn’t even come into consideration; the majority could consist primarily of air traffic controllers, pilots, and military personnel who were all close to the incident, while the minority could be civilians who were parked blocks away, but such considerations never enter into the picture. The same standards apply to expert testimony and other evidence: ninety-nine percent of the scientific community may agree that thimerosal does not play a role in causing autism; the conspiracy theorists will find the one doctor or dentist or undergraduate in biology who claims that it does, and will ignore all the dissenting evidence.
  • Argument by Question: Something I often come across when arguing with or otherwise encountering conspiracy theorists is the claim that there are “unanswered questions” or that they aren’t proposing an alternate theory, they’re “just asking questions.” A 9/11 nut who I’ve repeatedly debated took this tactic repeatedly, and I heard Joe Rogan pull it in a moon hoax debate with Phil Plait. The theorist will ask a variety of leading, loaded questions designed to imply a particular alternate narrative, then will act as if pointing out apparent anomalies with and questioning the “official” story is sufficient to support their alternative. It’s very similar to the tactics of Creationists–attempt to poke holes in the existing theory, then act as though doing so supports your particular alternative (a false dilemma). This becomes a burden of proof issue (see below), since their theory would still require positive evidence to support it, even if the “official” theory were completely discredited.
    This tactic has the additional benefit of providing a handy excuse for not defending their theory against criticism or questions. The conspiracist can step back and say “I’m just asking questions/playing devil’s advocate.” Naturally, the point of playing devil’s advocate is to propose a counterargument, which does require support. Otherwise, you’re not doing any good by playing devil’s advocate.
  • Burden of proof: Conspiracists generally do not recognize that their alternative position requires its own proof. Furthermore, they employ uneven standards of evidence. If one is to propose that there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll, then one must provide some evidence for that claim. Evidence that Oswald was the sole gunman, from the bullets to the computer simulations, can be largely handwaved away, since it would have been “impossible” for him to fire so many shots and leave the book depository in such a short time, and it would have been “impossible” for the bullet to take its trajectory through Kennedy and Connelly. Clearly this is damning for the “official” story. Meanwhile, the “evidence” to support the second gunman comes in the form of a sound on the Zapruder tape that may have been a gunshot, or may have been an echo, or may have been a car backfiring, or may have been a flaw in the audio, and an alleged eyewitness report after the fact. On this shaky foundation, the conspiracists invent a person, another gun, and thereafter, an assassination plot with roots deep in the heart of the federal government.
    It’s generally easy to see that these large conspiracies eventually become unwieldy, requiring more and more people and more and more planning and more and more sheer luck to work as the ad hoc hypotheses add up; what conspiracists often fail to understand, though, is that these stories then require more and more positive and specific evidence to support them.
  • Ad hoc hypotheses: I think, when people think about conspiracy kooks, this is what really comes to mind: rationalizing away any evidence or alternate explanations. I don’t know how many conspiracists include this sort of thing as a part of their theories; it seems more of a defensive element, brought about by desperation and attempts to shore up a narrative that is ultimately full of holes. Evidence for the “official” story was planted, fabricated, or otherwise faked; eyewitnesses and experts who contradict the conspiracy story are “in on it” or “paid off” or otherwise impeached. Ad hocking ultimately ends up bloating the conspiracy story and making it appear less like a legitimate alternative and more like a paranoid hodgepodge.

There’s more, I’m sure, and I have a feeling that I’ll revisit this topic. This started out as a request for links to good sites giving debunkings (general or specific) of various conspiracy theories, and somehow it ended up getting a little out of hand.
That being said, anyone know any good sites debunking general or specific conspiracy theories? I’m familiar with all the 9/11 debunking sites, but outside of that giant Bugliosi book, for instance, I’m not sure where I’d go for reliable information on the Kennedy assassination. Any advice?

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23 Responses to Conspiritorial Thinkings

  1. Jimmy_Blue says:

    Nice post Tom.I’m sure you know this but I’ll drop it in for 9/11 – 911myths.com – really comprehensive.As for Kennedy I have a little actual experience to add here, because I am (or rather was until recently) a qualified marksmanship coach. I used to teach teenagers in the British equivalent of the Civil Air Patrol how to shoot. And we used iron sights (no scopes or anything) at ranges from 25 yards to 300 yards.Whenever Kennedy’s assassination comes up I delight in correcting people who bring up the “Oswald couldn’t have done that in that time with that rifle.” You see he could have, easily. Furthermore, I like to tell people that I could teach them to do it given a few weeks and Oswald’s rifle.Oswald was a marksman rated shot trained by the Marine Corps as well, don’t forget.So, three shots in about 8 seconds. Only, its not. Because the time starts after the first shot is fired. So it’s 2 shots in 8 seconds. 4 shots a second. I used to teach that you should take your shot after about 3 – when taking a shot you usually hold your breath to stop barrel movement, and after a few seconds holding your breath your vision is affected. It doesn’t take long to operate the bolt action to eject a case and insert a round either. Just about a second if you’re good.My cadets used to have to fire 2 shots in 10 seconds over 300 yards, with no telescopic sight and in poor weather conditions, and the best could still hit the bullseye. Sometimes we’d practise something called snap firing, where the target is only exposed for 2-5 seconds. Again, the best could still hit the bullseye at 200 or 300 yards.So yes, Oswald could have taken those shots in that time, and especially with that rifle. Easily.A second argument I hear is that when people tested Oswald’s rifle afterwards they found it was firing off to the side, I’ve even heard it claimed that meant the sights were broken.This is another argument from people who don’t know shooting that well. Weapons need to be zeroed. Everyone’s sight is different, everyone holds a weapon different. No two barrels are the same even for similar weapons. In order to fire accurately you have to set the sights on each weapon so that they are good for the individual firing it – so anyone who fired Oswald’s weapon was firing it with sights set for Oswald, not them. If they didn’t zero the weapon for themselves, then of course it wasn’t accurate. It may take dozens of shots to correctly zero a weapon for an individual – that’s why modern snipers have individual weapons that no-one else touches, and why they fire hundreds if not thousands of rounds in training each week. One minor adjustment on the sight can be the difference between hitting the target dead centre or missing completely depending on range, target size and the firer.Oswald practised with the rifle, it was zeroed for him, for him it would have been accurate. Deadly accurate, if you’ll pardon the pun.If you ever want to write about Oswald and those shots, I’d be glad to provide more detail. But I don’t know of any websites that go into great detail.

  2. Akusai says:

    I’m not sure where we’d find great debunkings of classics like the Illuminati or the Rosicrucians or the Freemasons, merely because they’re so completely nebulous that they defy great debunkings. They’re building on so little that it’s hard to really grab hold of a few things and say “That’s not true.” Mostly what you can do is point and laugh, not unlike when someone says bigfoot hangs out with aliens.As for Paul McCartney, I think the strongest reason to believe that is because it would mean that it isn’t really one of the original Beatles who parades around with that mullet singing bland geezer-rock to pathetic baby boomers. That’s just the replacement.

  3. K.D. says:

    Cherry picking the data is a technique that debunkers also use, not just by conspiracy “buffs”. For instance, one of the commentors here claims that Oswald could have hit a moving target 3 times in 8 seconds (actually at least 4 shots were fired at Kennedy). However, Oswald’s vision of the Kennedy motorcade was obscured by the thick foliage of a large tree, so there’s no way he could have hit anything, let alone a moving target. Also, just because you believe in one or two conspiracies doesn’t mean that you believe in most or all conspiracies. It’s not an either/or proposition

  4. Akusai says:

    And here we see a fine example of “Argument by Question.””Here’s a perceived hole in the Oswald story, so there was a conspiracy.”No positive evidence has been presented for anything, just a problem with the prevailing theory, as if that proves something.

  5. Doubting Tom says:

    For instance, one of the commentors here claims that Oswald could have hit a moving target 3 times in 8 seconds (actually at least 4 shots were fired at Kennedy).Got a source for that last claim?However, Oswald’s vision of the Kennedy motorcade was obscured by the thick foliage of a large tree, so there’s no way he could have hit anything, let alone a moving target.Again, argument from ignorance: I can’t imagine how this could have happened, therefore it couldn’t have happened. Taking a quick look at a rendering of Dealey Plaza sure makes it look like Oswald’s perch was far enough above the large tree to make it a non-problem. If you’ve got some evidence to suggest otherwise, I’d be more than happy to examine it. Also, just because you believe in one or two conspiracies doesn’t mean that you believe in most or all conspiracies. It’s not an either/or propositionNor did anyone say it was. I’m lumping them all together to talk about their commonalities, not to suggest that every Roswell conspiracist also believes that the world is run by Jewish bankers in an underground bunker. However, it’s been my experience that a person who holds one set of unfounded, irrational beliefs is more likely to accept other unfounded, irrational beliefs. We see it all the time–UFO folks who are more than happy to believe in crystals and auras and cryptozoology, religious people who are prone to belief in ghosts and psychics, and so forth. Once you have rejected reason and evidence as your primary metrics for evaluating beliefs, you can fall for all sorts of stuff. And that applies to conspiracy theorists too; the way conspiracy theories tend to overlap is evidence of this. Once you’ve decided that 9/11 was an inside job, it’s not too much of a stretch to pin it on Skull and Bones or the Bilderbergers or the Freemasons or the Illuminati. Once you’ve decided that the government covered up alien spacecraft at Roswell, it’s not too much of a stretch to get to alien abductions and reptilian replicants. Take a quick look at the theories of folks like David Icke or half the posters on the JREF conspiracy forum: conspiracy theories can become like the Borg, assimilating other theories into increasingly unlikely and unwieldy epic stories. Sorry to everyone else, I’ll address your comments in the morning.

  6. Jimmy_Blue says:

    K.D.Seriously, you’re going to accuse us of cherry picking?Check out the wikipedia page on the Kennedy assassination, which includes accounts from many eye witnesses. Including some from in the book depository. Who heard only 3 shots. Just like the overwhelming majority of eye witnesses that day.Whilst you are there, check out the picture showing the location Oswald took his shots from, and the size of the tree in front of the building. Yes I’m sure that completely obscured his view. But hey, don’t stop there, check out the picture taken from where Oswald took his shots. Look obscured to you?For instance, one of the commentors here claims that Oswald could have hit a moving target 3 times in 8 seconds (actually at least 4 shots were fired at Kennedy). Sorry you must have misunderstood me. I didn’t claim it, I stated it as fact based on my experience as a marksmanship coach. What exactly is your relevant experience in this area? Please also note that the moving target was moving slowly and away from Oswald (not across his field of vision, which would have made the shot more difficult but not impossible by any stretch), not difficult to hit at all with a telescopic sight and a distance of less than 200 hundred yards when you are a trained marksman. Sorry, you fail. I cherry picked nothing – you did, you even failed to note that it was not 3 shots in 8 seconds but two. The time starts after the first shot is fired. Perhaps if you didn’t cherry pick my post, you might not make yourself look so silly.However, Oswald’s vision of the Kennedy motorcade was obscured by the thick foliage of a large tree, so there’s no way he could have hit anything, let alone a moving target.Fail, for the reasons cited.Also, just because you believe in one or two conspiracies doesn’t mean that you believe in most or all conspiracies. It’s not an either/or propositionPerhaps not, but I remember arguing with an idiot called RedPill who did believe that Pearl Harbour, JFK and 9/11 were all linked together. Once you open the gates, the crap appears to flood in.

  7. Will Staples says:

    It’s generally easy to see that these large conspiracies eventually become unwieldy, requiring more and more people and more and more planning and more and more sheer luck to work as the ad hoc hypotheses add upThat’s the chief reason I don’t put any stock in “evil government” conspiracies. If all the president’s men couldn’t cover up some schmucks breaking into a hotel, there’s no way they could cover up anything as grand as 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination.

  8. Akusai says:

    See, but they let Watergate come out so you would think exactly that.They’re freaking geniuses, man, and you just have to be able to read between the lines.

  9. Doubting Tom says:

    Here’s something I wrote back in 2006, debating a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, that echoes Will’s sentiment:”Watergate proved that the government is incapable of coverup, and the masterminds of Watergate were far smarter than the people in charge now.This administration couldn’t keep the August Memo secret, couldn’t keep the Downing Street Memo secret, couldn’t keep the lies that led up to the war secret, couldn’t keep Valerie Plame’s identity secret, couldn’t keep the identity of the leak secret, couldn’t keep Tom DeLay’s corruption secret, couldn’t keep the terrible conditions in Saipan secret, couldn’t keep Bill Frist’s corruption secret, couldn’t keep Bob Ney’s corruption secret, couldn’t keep the Abramoff scandal secret, couldn’t keep Duke Cunningham’s corruption secret, couldn’t keep Mark Foley’s pederastic relationships secret, couldn’t keep secret the fact that major Republicans knew about the Foley scandal for years, couldn’t keep the torture at Abu Ghraib secret, couldn’t keep the torture at Guantanamo Bay secret, couldn’t keep the secret prisons secret, couldn’t keep warrantless wiretapping secret, couldn’t keep their evisceration of the Constitution and the Geneva Convention secret, couldn’t keep the worsening conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan a secret, but somehow, somehow, they kept their involvement in 9/11 a secret?Riiiiiiight.”Government conspiracy theories tend to paint the government as a single monolithic entity with one solitary goal, failing to understand that the vast majority of government employees (like, for instance, the ones killed in the Pentagon on 9/11) are hired and owe no allegiance to the parties in power or the people at the top.

  10. Dunc says:

    Hmmmm… On the inability of governments to keep secrets, it’s worth bearing in mind that certain government agencies specialise in the matter. If your proposed conspiracy only requires the involvement of a relatively small number of individuals who are well used to keeping secrets, then it’s possible. The annual release of declassified documents always includes a fair crop of things that they did keep secret. Did we ever really get to the bottom of the Iran-Contra affair? However, that alone is not enough to prove that any given conspiracy is true, and there are limits to the ability to keep secrets.Also, I’m really not too sure that I’d describe the people behind Watergate as “masterminds”. “Bumbling amateurs” would be more like it. Here’s a tip for potential conspirators: don’t record your conversations, especially not on durable media.

  11. Doubting Tom says:

    On the inability of governments to keep secrets, it’s worth bearing in mind that certain government agencies specialise in the matter. If your proposed conspiracy only requires the involvement of a relatively small number of individuals who are well used to keeping secrets, then it’s possible.And there’s the rub. The more people who know about it, the more chance there is for whistleblowers, dissenters, deathbed confessions, and other leaks. Even within agencies like the CIA, FBI, and so forth, people are individuals and can come forward, just as Mark Felt did, and just as others have. But conspiracy theories are rarely limited to one small secretive government agency; more often than not, they have to invent new agencies and shadow governments to account for all the holes and problems with the reasoning. Conspiracies like the JFK assassination or the moon landing hoax or 9/11 would require–if we believe the theorists’ narratives–tremendous numbers of people working with near-perfect unity and no dissent or leakage. It requires a greater competence than I think any government is generally capable of.As far as the “masterminds” behind Watergate, I’m inclined to agree. But I think incidents like that and the recent stolen MI5 laptop (and I seem to recall even more recent news about French intelligence issues) show that such incompetence is probably the rule rather than the exception.

  12. Ktesibios says:

    “I’m familiar with all the 9/11 debunking sites, but outside of that giant Bugliosi book, for instance, I’m not sure where I’d go for reliable information on the Kennedy assassination. Any advice?”John McAdams’ site is a pretty good compendium of what’s known about the JFK assassination from a non-conspiracist point of view:http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/home.htm

  13. Dunc says:

    Tom: you’re quite right that the specific theories you mention are largely implausible, and I certainly agree that the chances of maintaining secrecy rapidly decline as the number of people involved rises. However, that doesn’t change the fact that to say “Watergate proved that the government is incapable of coverup” is blatantly fallacious reasoning, and it disappoints me to see someone such as yourself indulging in it. I’m sure that you don’t need me to explain the fallacy of the excluded middle to you… However, one thing that your list of failed conspiracies does clearly indicate is that governments (or rather, elements within them) do attempt all sort of crazy-ass conspiracies on a depressingly regular basis. Given that I doubt they’re all run by total idiots, it seems unlikely that they’d keep trying if they didn’t at least occasionally succeed. There are historical examples of large military or intelligence operations which involved “tremendous numbers of people working with near-perfect unity and no dissent or leakage”, and across multiple agencies and organisations. For example, Operation Tiger (a huge joint Anlgo-American battle training exercise in preparation for the D-Day landings which involved the evacuation of a sizeable area of Devon coast, two months of training exercises culminating in two full-scale, live-fire battle simulations. and the suppression of all reports of nearly 1000 casualties until after the D-Day landings had taken place), or the Anlgo/French/Israeli conspiracy which led to the Suez Crisis. With regard to the Suez Crisis, it’s also worth noting that whilst there were very large numbers of personnel involved, very few of them actually knew of the conspiracy behind it all. One of the interesting structural features of large bureaucracies is that most of the people in them have very little idea of how their individual actions fit into the big picture – the cogs often neither know nor care what the machine does (and I say that having been one of those cogs).(I had a paragraph in here about the distinction between operational secrecy and indefinite secrecy, but let’s just take it as read, huh? Yes, just about everything comes out in the end – but “in the end” can take quite a long time.)There is no one-size-fits-all argument against all “conspiracy theories” (largely because the term “conspiracy theory”, as commonly used, is almost entirely pejorative) – you have to tackle each on its (usually non-existent) merits. Very few are actually based on accurate facts and cogent arguments, and (as you correctly observe) they tend to rely on shifting the burden of proof. As we all know, any argument that rests on the assertion that “you can’t prove it isn’t true” is generally not to be taken seriously, and this is usually the clincher for me. Without real, non-circumstantial evidence, it’s all just pointless speculation.Whew, that turned out a bit longer than expected. Sorry if I’m going on too much. ;)

  14. jurjen303 says:

    Dunc, the teeny problem with your examples there is that, while it is evidently possible to keep the preparations for a particular action secret, it is another thing entirely to keep secret the fact that you have committed an action after the fact. Operation Overlord ceased to be a secret on June 6th, 1944, and the joint Anglo-Franco-Israeli attack on Egypt ceased to be a secret on October 29th, 1956. Moreover, the details of the preparations have since all emerged, or how else would you be able to cite them now?

  15. Dunc says:

    I guess I should have left that para about the distinction between operational and indefinite secrecy in then… Like I said, just about everything does come out in the end, but sometimes it can take a long time.I’ll grant those weren’t perhaps the best examples I could have chosen, they were just the first ones that came to mind to address the particular issue of the involvement of large numbers of people. However, I will note that whilst it’s obviously true that “the joint Anglo-Franco-Israeli attack on Egypt ceased to be a secret on October 29th, 1956”, the details of the conspiracy to launch that attack (the Protocol of Sèvres) remained completely secret until the publication of Antony Nutting’s No End of a Lesson in 1967, and were not definitively confirmed until the publication of Christian Pineau’s Suez 1956 in 1976. As another example consider the Colossus computer, which remained completely secret for over 40 years until the publication of Frederick Winterbotham’s The Ultra Secret in 1974. And of course I’m never going to be able to give you an example of such a case that has completely retained its secrecy, by definition. That in itself does not prove that they do not exist.

  16. Bronze Dog says:

    I remember one example of a well-done coverup: The F-117 Nighthawk. Of course, the big difference was that the people involved worked in government-controlled locations. The typical nutty coverup story involves performing activities in public locations and then magically hiding all the evidence.

  17. Dunc says:

    Not just that, but doing it when there are usually much simpler alternative means of achieving the same outcome available to them. If the CIA wanted to off Kennedy, I’m pretty sure there are about a million safer and more reliable ways they could have gone about it. Heck, if they weren’t prepared to shoot Castro from 300 yards at a major public event, why would they do it to Kennedy? And it was obviously a heck of a lot easier for them to get close to him…

  18. Doubting Tom says:

    I love the conversation that’s going on here, and I wish I had time right now for a more substantial comment. In the meantime, I want to clear up one thing:Dunc: However, that doesn’t change the fact that to say “Watergate proved that the government is incapable of coverup” is blatantly fallacious reasoning, and it disappoints me to see someone such as yourself indulging in it. I’m sure that you don’t need me to explain the fallacy of the excluded middle to you…Agreed entirely. As I said, that was something I wrote back in October of 2006, and I freely admit (the evidence is right here) that my argument- and logic-fu were weak sauce. Today, I would be more inclined to say that the litany of failed cover-ups of things much more easily concealed than a plot to assassinate the president or a plan to blow up several buildings in large metropolitan areas at least cast serious doubt on the government’s ability to conceal such involvement, particularly for any length of time, and particularly in this information age. I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible, nor would I say that Watergate “proves” that it can’t happen, but I think the history at least warrants greater skeptical scrutiny.

  19. Dunc says:

    Ah, well, that’s all right then. Carry on. :)

  20. What about when conspiracy theories are correct? The book title doesn’t spring to mind… I’ll have to look it up… but one book I read had a number of chapters about the propaganda that by calling anything a conspiracy theory somehow makes it look like crap.One example.Operation Gladio, run by the CIA for decades to destabilize Italy (supposedly an ally) so that the Italian Communist Party would never come to national power, even though they ran many successful cities and provinces. The height of this black op was the assassination of Aldo Moro, run by the CIA and not the Red Brigade.All of the above is conspiracy theory madness… if it had been written in 1970. Now it is fact!

  21. Bronze Dog says:

    The problem is that the sorts of conspiracy theories touted by nuts are in many ways fundamentally different from actual conspiracies.

  22. Jimmy_Blue says:

    What about when conspiracy theories are correct?Structurally they are very different, there is actual physical and documentary evidence to support them. Eventually some people involved come clean and have supporting evidence.Where is this with JFK, the Apollo landings and 9/11? Even with all the public scrutiny and potential money-making involved?There’s a difference between secretive operations that eventually become public knowledge and a bunch of film students and neo-Nazis looking for publicity by claiming something in the face of overwhelming counter evidence.Operation Gladio was not an exclusively CIA operation – it was a NATO operation largely funded by the CIA and thought up by it, and it did not operate exclusively in Italy but all over Europe – they were supposed to be the resistance when the Warsaw Pact invaded western Europe. It’s aim was not solely to destabilise Italy.But then, a good conspiracy theory is never far from the CIA screwing some friends over.

  23. Akusai says:

    Really, I think the question is a lot like asking “Yeah, well what happens when they find Bigfoot?”The answer is that I’d stop being skeptical of Bigfoot, and likewise if any conspiracy theory was proved right I’d stop being skeptical of it.Of course, if any of them are correct, they’re correct now, even though we don’t know it; good evidence doesn’t make them correct, it just demonstrates that they are. Therein lies the difference between skeptics and cranks: they believe their conspiracy theories to be true in the absence of evidence, i.e. for no good reason. We retain the null hypothesis until such time as a conspiracy theory is proven correct.We’re more interested in method than specific results, and thus if any of them turn out to be correct, the general reaction will be “Oh. Good job getting all that evidence. I was wrong.”However, I don’t hold out much probability of that happening with most (if any) conspiracy theories. They lack basic plausibility and are held together by chains every single link of which is broken; often they rely on a lack of evidence as evidence. Should real evidence ever arise for one, though, I’d be right there admitting I was wrong.

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