Conspiracy Theories

Fascinating New Scientist article (for subscribers only, but there's a copy here) on conspiracy theories, and why we believe them:

So what kind of thought processes contribute to belief in conspiracy theories? A study I carried out in 2002 explored a way of thinking sometimes called "major event - major cause" reasoning. Essentially, people often assume that an event with substantial, significant or wide-ranging consequences is likely to have been caused by something substantial, significant or wide-ranging.

I gave volunteers variations of a newspaper story describing an assassination attempt on a fictitious president. Those who were given the version where the president died were significantly more likely to attribute the event to a conspiracy than those who read the one where the president survived, even though all other aspects of the story were equivalent.

To appreciate why this form of reasoning is seductive, consider the alternative: major events having minor or mundane causes -- for example, the assassination of a president by a single, possibly mentally unstable, gunman, or the death of a princess because of a drunk driver. This presents us with a rather chaotic and unpredictable relationship between cause and effect. Instability makes most of us uncomfortable; we prefer to imagine we live in a predictable, safe world, so in a strange way, some conspiracy theories offer us accounts of events that allow us to retain a sense of safety and predictability.

Other research has examined how the way we search for and evaluate evidence affects our belief systems. Numerous studies have shown that in general, people give greater attention to information that fits with their existing beliefs, a tendency called "confirmation bias." Reasoning about conspiracy theories follows this pattern, as shown by research I carried out with Marco Cinnirella at the Royal Holloway University of London, which we presented at the British Psychological Society conference in 2005.

The study, which again involved giving volunteers fictional accounts of an assassination attempt, showed that conspiracy believers found new information to be more plausible if it was consistent with their beliefs. Moreover, believers considered that ambiguous or neutral information fitted better with the conspiracy explanation, while non-believers felt it fitted better with the non-conspiracy account. The same piece of evidence can be used by different people to support very different accounts of events.

This fits with the observation that conspiracy theories often mutate over time in light of new or contradicting evidence. So, for instance, if some new information appears to undermine a conspiracy theory, either the plot is changed to make it consistent with the new information, or the theorists question the legitimacy of the new information. Theorists often argue that those who present such information are themselves embroiled in the conspiracy. In fact, because of my research, I have been accused of being secretly in the pay of various western intelligence services (I promise, I haven't seen a penny).

Lots of good stuff in the article, including instructions on how to create your own conspiracy theory.

Posted on August 14, 2007 at 6:17 AM • 50 Comments

Comments

bobAugust 14, 2007 6:35 AM

Of course you realize this in no way precludes President Bush from having personally flown those planes into the buildings on 9/11!

Dave B.August 14, 2007 7:03 AM

"I promise, I haven’t seen a penny"

Of course he would say that, wouldn't he? ;)

Bruce, do you (or The Razor) have permission to reproduce that story here?

JonasAugust 14, 2007 7:42 AM

Why do otherwise sane people believe that conspiracies do _not_ exist? Never? In any circumstances? That is just as irrational as believing that _every_ substantial event is part of a grand conspiracy scheme.

There are all kind of conspiracies at every level of human life. From conspiring with an affair in order to have intercourse without your husband knowing, to conspiring with your business competition in order to keep prices high. The first one is nobody's business but you and your husband's, the second one is called a cartel and rightfully prohibited by law because it harms the customers.

From there it is just a small step to find out that governments themselves often conspire against their citizens. Have you heard of Gladio (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladio)? Or P2 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_Due)? Both were unconvered by the courts as secret organizations within the state.

No one likes to admit that an entity with power over them misuses that power. That's why children side with their abusive parents, hostages with their takers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome), and citizens with their governments. Irrational as that may be.

One the one hand may be the conspiracy nuts, but one the other and maybe stronger are those whose cognitive dissonance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance) sets in as soon as their government, their employer, or their family is involved. They can do no wrong.

Carlo GrazianiAugust 14, 2007 7:42 AM

Conspiracy theorists also often seem smug about their "ability" to perceive the real (but occulted) explanation of some major event, particularly since this makes them feel smarter, or better-informed, than the majority who accepts a more mundane explanation. Their "cynicism" makes them more worldly, in their own view. This kind of validation helps sustain their otherwise pathological world-view, in my opinion.

RonKAugust 14, 2007 7:45 AM

@ Dave B.

> Bruce, do you (or The Razor) have permission to reproduce that story here?

Bruce for sure didn't reproduce the story here, he only linked. That would be almost certainly legal in certain places (e.g., Sweden) at the current time; whether you think it is OK to link it from this blog is totally off-topic (or do you believe that Bruce is a pawn of a conspiracy trying to put New Scientist out of business?).

CinnamonBunAugust 14, 2007 8:10 AM

@Jonas: well said. It's interesting to note that the article takes a similar stance, BTW:

"Conspiracy theories can have a valuable role in society. We need people to think “outside the box��?, even if there is usually more sense to be found inside the box. The close scrutiny of evidence and the dogged pursuit of alternative explanations are key features of investigative journalism and critical scientific thinking. Conspiracy theorists can sometimes be the little guys who bring the big guys to account - including multinational companies and governments. After all, some conspiracy theories turn out to be true. Take the Iran-Contra affair, a massive political scandal of the late 1980s. When claims first surfaced that the US government had sold arms to its enemy Iran to raise funds for pro-American rebel forces in Nicaragua and to help secure the release of US hostages taken by Iran, it certainly sounded like yet another convoluted conspiracy theory. Several question marks remain over the affair, but President Ronald Reagan admitted that his administration had indeed sold arms to Iran."

Carlo GrazianiAugust 14, 2007 8:49 AM

Jonas is exploiting a terminological ambiguity to make a point that has little relevance to the subject of "conspiracy theories".

Conspiracy theory is a term connoting a pathology, not because there are no conspiracies, or because they never involve power, or because it is illegitimate to speculate on their occulted aspects. It is rather because the term applies to a style of theorizing in which claims and evidence are grotesquely mismatched. An important aspect of the mentality that is prone to such theorizing is weird weighting of evidence, stressing or discounting facts, rumors, feelings etc. in such a way as to produce a pre-determined outcome.

Incidentally, it is not the case that CT is the exclusive domain of the tinfoil-hat class. Government and corporate officials are also occasionally affected. My personal view of the origins of the Iraq war is that a CT made an important contribution. Namely, the idea that Bin Laden and Hussein were somehow allied, despite the evident absurdity of the notion that Islamist (millenarian, nostalgic) terrorists and Baathist (modernizing, nationalist, pan-Arab) bureaucrats, who hated each other more than either hated the US, could have made common cause against us.

Nonetheless, this very idea was peddled very determinedly by the Administration, supported by almost comically distorted "intelligence", directed at proving a conclusion that Cheney, Perle, etc. already "knew" to be correct. The episode has some of the classic hallmarks of CT, although the outcome is of course more serious that is the case with the drivel spouted by your run-of-the-mill Roswell-pilgrimage loon.

bzelbobAugust 14, 2007 9:15 AM

I believe that much of what drives the negative view of "conspiracy theory" is a lack of evidence or the poor handling of existing evidence by those in charge WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO ensure proper procedures for investigation.

The biggest case in point is the JFK assassination. There were so many foul-ups of evidence and proper procedure that it's no wonder that people have continued to speculate.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy_assassination#Criticism_of_FBI

Those in authority cannot complain about consipracy theories when people are given either no explanation or an explanation with holes in it. Human beings are human beings and will come up with a theory to explain anything. If they are not given a theory that makes sense, they will make one up. The entire history of science can be looked at as the move from poor explanations to better ones. Look at the standards for proof in science for a good example of 'evidence procedures'.

GrahameAugust 14, 2007 9:17 AM

Interesting to see that conspiracy theories are subject to Kuhn's laws too.

My Russian history professor had his own version of occams law: For any given event that may be explained by either incompetence or conspiracy, incompetence will always be the correct explanation (and this was about Russian History, steeped in conspiracy)

Dave B.August 14, 2007 9:20 AM

@ RonK

Bruce actually reproduced about six paragraphs here of what I assume is subscriber content and I'm curious as to whether he sought permission. That the Razor has reproduced all of the content is another issue.

I merely asked the question out of curiosity. Any further interpretation (including mine) will be due to the "confirmation bias" of the reader's existing views. ;)

JohnAugust 14, 2007 9:43 AM

Click the below link. Bill Hicks comedy routine makes more sense than the "official story." Perhaps that's why people believe in conspiracy theories.

SpiderAugust 14, 2007 9:48 AM

On of my favorite hobbies is manipulating conspiracy stories my insane acquaintances have until they actually believe the truth of what happened, but with a longer back story. So in the end they are better adjusted to the rest of society and still feel the superiority of knowing " the whole truth".

DAN RATHERAugust 14, 2007 9:49 AM

Occam's Razor, which the post cites, is the worst argument you could ever use. It is something that is nice to know about but sticking to that you are being blind and biased. The simplest solution is almost NEVER the real solution.

Occam's Razor is usually an appeal to authority or a religious type of thinker where they aren't sure so they are being safe and siding with their belief in God or their belief in their authority.

Open up your newspaper, it is littered with conspiracies. People conspiring to rob a bank, or Enron conspiring to drain funds, or a corrupt cop using the system to take advantage of the system.

Take this example: Which conspiracy do you believe?

Is it more simple to believe an elaborate network of dark Arab cavemen are training in caves just to kill Americans?

OR

There was some crooked group of individuals that used or allowed an attack to get benefits after the crime?

Why do the cops suspect inside jobs when there is a bank robbery or large crime where knowledge of the

innerworkings of the system were needed to subvert it? Why was there drills on the same day as 9/11 to the attacks?

Who had knowledge of this?

Is a corrupt cop part of a GRAND CONSPIRACY of the police or is there simply individiuals that take advantage of

systems when they know their holes and when they can hide behind them?

Occam's Razor check: What is more simple God made the world in 6 days or it is billions of years old? Well if you ride

with Occams' you are one dumb ar-s-e.

hmm yeahAugust 14, 2007 10:04 AM

JFK was killed by ninjas whose descendants also were responsible for 9/11 by using their mind powers to convince the hijackers to be fools for their bidding

Jed HooverAugust 14, 2007 10:13 AM

@ bzelbob

"The biggest case in point is the JFK assassination. There were so many foul-ups of evidence and proper procedure that it's no wonder that people have continued to speculate."

Er...um...couldn't the huge amount of public speculation have something to do with the fact that the Warren Comission sealed their findings for fifty years?

That act alone would seem to indicate that something quite unusual is being concealed.

This apart from all the evidentiary foul ups made by investigators and the "magic bullet" that can pass through anything and look like it was only fired into cotton wadding.

Conspiracy theories aren't always wrong...they're just seldom proven right.

Allen VarneyAugust 14, 2007 10:20 AM

The impulse to see conspiracies without objectively persuasive evidence is a religious impulse. The "major event - major cause" is one approach to the religious "problem of evil." The theorist refuses to believe something awful happened at random; rather, there must be an evil agent, much as a religion postulates a malign Satanic adversary. In that sense, irrational conspiracy theorists are optimists. They believe the universe invariably works according to a plan.

zornAugust 14, 2007 10:24 AM

I'll bet in Germany in 1933 someone ran around saying 'hey, Adolf is using fear to get us to go to war, we aren't really in danger, he set the Reighstag fire himself to get the people to go to war! Years from now Germans will be ashamed to talk of this time, Adolf only likes Blue Eyed, Blond haired people and he will kill MILLIONS OF JEWS, torturing them mercilessly, sending them to gas chambers, burying them in mass graves! We have to do something!

And the people would have said: 'bah, stupid conspiracy theorist.'

BetaAugust 14, 2007 10:27 AM

"Those who were given the version where the president died were significantly more likely to attribute the event to a conspiracy than those who read the one where the president survived..."

This is very interesting, but to be fair, a conspiracy can make a better plan of attack than a lone crackpot can, so the fact that the attack was successful _is_ evidence of a conspiracy. It's just not very strong evidence.

Joe PattersonAugust 14, 2007 10:32 AM

How strange it must be to do research on conformation bias:

Researcher1: This new evidence completely supports our theories on confirmation bias!

Researcher2: Wonderful! Additionally, your belief that the evidence supports our theory, supports our theory!

Researcher1: And your belief that my belief supports our theory, supports our theory! We *must* be right!

evgenAugust 14, 2007 11:16 AM

Unfortunately Zorn, while a conspiracy might work in the short term, it does not hold up over time. Conspirators talk, are caught, or are eventually revealed by the evidence at hand. Some major events do have major causes, but few, if any, major events have major causes that remain hidden over time. It is the pathological insistence on the "hidden hand" of the conspiracy, without regard to evidence discovered over time, which is the hallmark of a conspiracy theorist.

Yes, the Nazi's did set the Reichstag fire. We know this because the conspiracy did not hold for very long. It did not need to. A short-term vs. long-term perspective is what distinguishes a skeptic from a conspiracy theorist; the former can doubt the cause but will not cling to a theory as evidence of its fallacy pile up.

A skeptic looks at events as they happen and considers the possibility of a conspiracy (e.g. "the National Socialists did it!") while a conspiracy theorist starts with an idea, molds events and evidence to fit the idea, and then clings to it without regard for reality (e.g. "the Jews really burnt the Reichstag to incite Hitler's vengance and build up sympathy for their cause in Hitler's enemies...")

Fred PAugust 14, 2007 11:24 AM

Interesting... my thought on recent major conspiracy theories is that (in most cases) there was a conspiracy; it just has little to do with the theory. In general, the actual conspiracy was some branch of government (or other large organization) trying to cover up their mistakes that were peripherally related to the event, so as not to get blamed. This does not mean that that branch of government directly caused the event; merely that there was a tenuous involvement they didn't want unearthed.

Someone distrusting of the government in question then takes the evidence of a cover-up, and assumes that instead of minor, peripheral involvement (such as, say, that an inspection was late), that government agency is covering up something major (such as that they were directly to blame for the event).

Of course, I could be wrong; it's possible that some people don't need evidence of a government cover-up to create a theory that the government did it. After all, the pre-condition I suppose is very common for major events. At any time, in a large organization, someone isn't doing what they were supposed to be doing.

JonathanAugust 14, 2007 11:47 AM

Hm. I thought everyone knew by now that JFK was shot by his driver and that the 3 WTC buildings were brought down by controlled demolition. But maybe Lone Gunmen and Radical Saudis are just too "mundane" to explain those events.

Bruce SchneierAugust 14, 2007 12:52 PM

"Bruce, do you (or The Razor) have permission to reproduce that story here?"

I post my excerpt under the fair-use provision I use to post excerpts for almost every blog post.

I have no idea if The Razor has permissinon to repost the story. If I had to guess, I'd say no. But I'm glad he did, because otherwise none of my readers could read it. (Sadly, some magazines are stupid about the web.)

TZAugust 14, 2007 2:18 PM

I would like to know if the fact that you don't believe official "conspiracy theories" makes you a "conspiracy theorist" ? Who's right or wrong ? Very often, the theories are spread by official people. Personally, I've been shocked by how some people are believing some of 9/11 official statements which are completely disproved by pictures or videos. Sometimes, they don't even bother to seek for a truth which could change completely their relationship with medias. Then, I would agree that there are some others who are completely paranoid. Doubt should always be the guideline...

AndyAugust 14, 2007 3:26 PM

Well this entire "study" is clearly just a part of The Machine - with its sole purpose to mock and discredit the non-sheeple. New Scientist? Come on! You ever notice? New Scientist - "Noose Eye and Tist"? Huh? Like, a noose is hanging the eye that you see above the pyramid on the back of a dollar bill....

zornAugust 14, 2007 4:11 PM

evgen, it is not impossible that there are people perpetuating multiple 'conspiracies', the problem is when people start to mold things to fit their ideas, this is true.

Look at Bush - a lot of people feel something is amiss with 9/11. Recently, the BBC reported that Bush's grandfather Prescott was involved in planning a plot to overthrow the US government in the 30s. Prescott's bank was shut down because they funded Nazi's.

Now if someone had reported a year ago that Bush's Grandfather was trying to overthrow the US in the 30s, they would be labeled a tinfoil hatter - now, its News.

His grandson is our president, pushing War when almost none of the population wants it. Is it insane to link these two? To think that grandfather would affect his son's upbringing, and in turn, his son's upbringing? Why would it be so weird to think the grandson could think like his grandfather did?

It's all in how you view things, in my opinion. One man's 'normal' is another man's 'conspiracy.'

Peter E RetepAugust 14, 2007 4:18 PM

As Harlan Elison observed,
"Just because I'm paranoid
doesn't mean
they're not tryoing to get me."
OR
Lack of evidence is not necessarily Evidence of a lack.
OR
Those who speak to popular wisdom
have a lot more to say.

Psy-KoshAugust 14, 2007 5:23 PM

Just a quick comment to peter:

You said "Lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of lack."

Actually, using the Bayesian view of probability, it can be easily shown that one does imply the other.

Consider two mutually exclusive hypothesies A and B

Now, evidence E supporting A against B would mean that evidence is justification for increasing the A:B ratio. ie, the A:B odds.

Now, we know that is the case exactly when P(E|A) > P(E|B) (just from the basic rules of manipulating conditional probabilities...)

So now, given the above, let's say you find out that instead of E, ~E happened/was observed/etc..

well, obviously P(~E|A) = 1 - P(E|A)

alternately, consider the original inequality... negate both sides (and thus flip the direction of the inequality) and then add 1 to both sides and you have

P(~E|A)

ie, E favoring A over B implies that ~E favors B over A (though not necessarally to equal strength)

E may be strong evidence one way, and ~E weak evidence the other way, or vice versa, in many cases...

But always if E is evidence one way, ~E is evidence the other.

Carlo GrazianiAugust 14, 2007 6:05 PM

Nice, Psy-Kosh. It should be said, however, that for most conspiracy theories, the prior (to E) odds P(CT)/P(~CT) are chosen to be so large in favor of CT that the likelihood ratio P(E|CT)/P(E|~CT) hardly makes any difference to the conclusion CT.

Psy-KoshAugust 14, 2007 6:08 PM

Carlo: Thanks. Choosing reasonable priors, of course, is an entirely different question which I didn't touch on. All I was doing was demonstrating that the statement "lack of evidence is not evidence of lack" is provably false.

True priors, of course, are handcrafted by the Bayesian Conspiracy. :D

parmenidesAugust 14, 2007 6:56 PM

What has been lost in all this is the fact that in the studies mentioned in the original post is that all people fit events and logic to fit their pre-existing beliefs. Why do you think people only get news from sources that agree with their political viewpoints? This is not ground breaking stuff.

That means that all of us, on a regular basis, 'twist' facts and logic to achieve pre-determined conclusions.

According to Carlo's definition of conspiracy then, we all are conspiracy theorists.

Also evident in Carlo's definition is the reason why labeling someone a conspiracy theorist has such devastating power. Implicit in the definition is that the person is misusing logic. So simply label someone a CT, and by definition, they must be a crackpot and their theories bunk.

Brilliant! There is no defense against this. Try to logically explain why your CT is actually more rational, and it falls on deaf ears since you obviously are a nutter because you believe something other than the authorized account.

DigitalCommandoAugust 14, 2007 10:47 PM

@carlos If we were to reduce your grandiose verbage to a tolerable conversational level, all your really saying is, anyone against the "norm" is easily dismissed. You err in your automatic assumption that all which fails to pass YOUR intellectual scrutiny, is rendered void and therefore CT. It is you, and your ilk, that maintains the known and the dull. It is there that you are safe, secure in your own self-proclaimed intellectual superiority, a warm cocoon of ignorance and rejection.
I can remember a time in history when people like you rallied against the most laughable idiot on earth. It was that whacked-out CT who went against all of the "brilliant" scientific minds of the day, claiming "the earth was round". What a fool HE turned out to be.

JackG'tAugust 15, 2007 1:18 AM

Never fear a little intellectualization, at least until it generates a theory or a construct or jargon.

ZytheranAugust 15, 2007 2:03 AM

@DAN RATHER

"Occam's Razor check: What is more simple God made the world in 6 days or it is billions of years old? Well if you ride

with Occams' you are one dumb ar-s-e."

Which conveniently ignores the actual paraphrased Occams Razor of "“All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one."

equal?..scientific evidence for 6 day creation..yeah..right.!

In relation to the young earth belief system the following from the article could be relevant..
"..This presents us with a rather chaotic and unpredictable relationship between cause and effect. Instability makes most of us uncomfortable; we prefer to imagine we live in a predictable, safe world, so in a strange way, some conspiracy theories offer us accounts of events that allow us to retain a sense of safety and predictability."

NicoAugust 15, 2007 7:06 AM

I've read a lot of comments on the linked article and here. I'm surprised that I haven't read any of the obvious responses:

- That Ockham's razor applies to physics, not to assassinations and mass murder with powerful political outcome. Human behaviour is always complex. The true CT aren't more complex, just absurd.

- That an explanation of what makes people to believe in conspirations doesn't say anything about whether the conspiration is real or not.

- That it doesn't make any sense to compare conspiracy theories about Lady Di's death to JFK's assassination. Lady Diana had no political power and there wasn't any reasonable doubt about the circumstances of her death, like say there was a gunman that was shot dead before his trial.

I'm not american and have little interest in JFK's assassination. I don't *believe* neither the official explanation nor the CTs. But I do think there is a strong reasonable chance that Oswald was a pawn of someone powerful, not because there's strong evidence, simply because who JFK was and what was his position.

That's not believing, it's just suspension of believe.

Carlo GrazianiAugust 15, 2007 7:43 AM

To Parmenides, I would say that it is not the case that CT is merely an aggressive rhetorical tactic, a label to be applied to anyone with whom we disagree. I certainly don't use it that way, and if this were in fact the common usage, the term would indeed not be of any intellectual value.

CT is a valuable category, because there does exist a style of argument that stresses past the breaking point the link between size of claims and strength of evidence. To deny that this is possible is equivalent to setting claims free from evidence -- the "unreason" stance of postmodernism.

Generally speaking, there is plenty of wiggle room for reasonable people to disagree, vehemently, about what facts constitute evidence for which claims, and how that evidence should be weighted. That doesn't make anyone ipso facto a loon.

However there does exist a threshold, however fuzzy, beyond which the claims-evidence bond is simply and obviously severed. When facts are simply made up and presented with authority irrespective of whether they are easily debunked or utterly unverifiable, when non-sequiturs are proffered as unshakeable logic, when explanations are put forward whose explanatory power is limited to the claim, but has no other effect on the world, then that fuzzy threshold has been passed. We're now in CT land.

This happens occasionally in science too. At the cutting edge, there can be rather energetic, even vituperative debate about what the correct interpretation of scientific evidence shall be (witness climate change). But eventually, enough evidence emerges, a consensus consolidates, and the field moves on. Sometimes it leaves behind some really angry people who are convinced the consensus is wrong. There are, today, scientists who still deny that the Universe is expanding, despite the overwhelming evidence, despite the fact that to remove that assumption would make most of extragalactic astronomy unintelligible, there are still a few dissenters. They can't get their papers published, because at this point their work is high on angry rhetoric, but scores near zero on scientific value. Naturally, they have concluded that a cabal has conspired against them.

joseAugust 15, 2007 11:27 AM

If you think that are dangerous conspiracy read in www.safehack.com the articles showing how and where are the real backdoors of all PGP products, inclusive Truecrypt virtual disks have backdoor.
In this site you can read the hungry mails attacking the hacker ADONIS for reveal that in forums, prior to talk the owners of PGP and truecrypt.
The backdoors are real and demostrated, inclusive the hashes now are reversible by this times. Scary huh...

Please dont remove this post bruce is important to reveal this goverment conspiracy , and hell PGP never was the program helping people.

Psy-KoshAugust 15, 2007 1:46 PM

As far as Occam's Razor, the proper view of it is that it favors the theory with the simplest assumptions. Not simplest consequences etc etc etc, but simplest assumptions.

ie, the fewest number things that have to be "just so" for it to work out.

averrosAugust 19, 2007 11:04 PM

The interesting things about conspiracies is that most glaringly obvious ones are also the ones being totally missed by people who consider themselves sensible and rational.

Take for example talk of various conspiracies within governments - rogue departments or officials, etc. Those totally miss the fact that the government itself is a conspiracy - intent on keeping its subjects in dark about its real nature, which is, basically, no different from a mafia - i.e. a glorified protection racket.

Once you see it this way, the puzzles of glaring "incompetence" of DHS, TSA, you name a government department, suddenly have a good rational explanation - it is not incompetence at all; they are, in fact, pretty good at their function of extracting resources from the host population.

RobynAugust 22, 2007 12:22 PM

My feeling about conspiracy theories is that they are used to reassert faith in government power after a failure. The government is supposed to have the power to protect its citizens and its president. If the president or thousands of citizens are suddenly killed, then either the government has failed, or the government was in control all along and the apparent failure was all due to some convoluted and sinister plot.

AnonymousSeptember 30, 2007 1:13 AM

I agree with everyone. There are, indeed conspiracies everywhere; some few of them are important; some CT are more the reflection of the theorist's own mind than objective fact; some CT are flawed but basically right.
There is one kind of fallacy that I think honest CTers make all too often. To whit, they attribute every event to choice of some human agency. A simple change in magnitudes can cause much that is unexpected and incomprehensible.
That's not to say human agency might not take advantage of unexpected change. I'm sure humans take advantage of many unexpected conditions and states, but those taking advantage might have had nothing to do with causing the condition or state.
Still, conspiracies do exist and all but in their very nature they will be hard to figure out. Thus I think one should have several fall-back theories.
Another consideration is that when some event really makes no sense, then some human mental agency is likely at work obfuscating. It doesn't matter the reason. But it does matter who is doing the obfuscation, just in case it might be oneself.

JackNovember 21, 2007 4:21 PM

The government created all of the 9-11 conspiracies, it was one giant conspiracy that conspired to conspire on the second thursday of each month. Eventually the followers will become so diluted with their own mental superiority that they will forget to eat and starve to death at their keyboards. I will laugh.

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