A popular pastime among people with nothing better to do is the fabrication of conspiracy theories (CTs) to explain historical events differently from the generally accepted version. These theories have one characteristic in common, that a small group of people pulled off the fraud, and then successfully concealed the truth and their involvement for many years. In every case only a few discrepancies remain to hint at the alleged true sequence of events, which the unmaskers are willing to expose and explain the truth to the formerly deluded public.
Examples of CTs include the resurrection of Jesus (the disciples stole the body), the Holocaust (never happened), the NASA moon landing (a Hollywood production), the Kennedy assassination (the military-industrial complex protecting their profits), the US income tax (unconstitutional, and IRS suppresses the truth about Section 861), the suicide of Vincent Foster (murdered by the Clintons), and the collapse of the 9/11 towers (Republicans did it for an excuse to invade Iraq, or else Silverstein did it for the insurance money).
There are several other qualities CTs all share in common:
1. The alleged unmaskers themselves qualify as a conspiracy by whatever criteria they might use to accuse their victims.
2. The unmaskers falsely make themselves out to be experts or professionals in the domains they report on; actual experts and professionals in those technical domains rarely or never join them.
3. The evidence that would conclusively prove the CT has always mysteriously disappeared.
4. Other evidence that proves the CT wrong does exist, but it is belittled or ridiculed.
5. Anybody who disagrees with the alleged unmaskers on technical grounds is ridiculed as ignorant or deluded or lying.
The purpose of this essay is to provide some tools to help the reader look behind the curtain and debunk the debunkers. We do this by examining at some length the kinds of people presenting CTs, and the kinds of "evidence" they offer in support of their opinions, and finally, what it takes for a conspiracy to succeed.
I encourage you to apply these same critical faculties to everything
you read on the internet -- including this essay -- so as to protect yourself
from both willful fraud and ignorant rumor.
Some people are professional journalists. They get paid for reporting stories that their publishers want to print (which means they are interesting, so people buy the magazines or newspapers and they can sell ads). The National Enquirer and other tabloids sell their pages on the basis of being surprising. Readers expect them to be less than credible. The mainstream media (MSM), on the other hand, claim to be objective. The reading public is pretty unforgiving about being lied to, so the MSM are usually very careful to check their facts. Refereed scientific journals are even more careful about their facts; they go to independent scientists for verification.
There is no quality control at all on the internet. Anybody can post anything they want, true or false. Most people do not have the resources to check the reliability of what they read on the net, and even if they did, they don't want to spend the time. That's why they are looking on the net in the first place. The scammers and the shysters know that and capitalize on it. Just because everybody links to a blog (so Google finds it) doesn't make it true.
Any blog in which the author is unwilling to tell you his name and credentials is probably a lie. He has a reason for not wanting to be held accountable. Blogs supported by MSM are more likely (after the dust settles) to be reliable than far-out stuff done by loners. Sometimes loners uncover startling facts the MSM missed, but not as often as they want you to believe. In any case, the MSM will be on it if there's any truth to it. The MSM cannot keep their readership by covering up the facts, and they have more resources to check the facts than you do. They may apply a corporate spin in areas where they have an editorial bias, but they won't flat lie to you.
On the other hand, the MSM writers are journalists, not scientists. Sometimes you can get better science from the scientists' own web sites, or better theology from the theologians' own web sites. I almost added that you could get better political opinions from the politicians, but I don't think so, because...
"What's in it for the guy telling the story?"
The journalists are paid to tell their stories accurately. They try to do that. The scientists would be disgraced (same as being fired) for reporting bogus science, so they are very careful with the truth. Politicians, on the other hand, are paid when they get elected, which often involves bamboozling more voters to vote for them than for the other candidates. Hobbyists and amateur bloggers are in it for the fun and fame; nothing holds them to the truth. Be very wary of non-professional opinions.
Be especially wary of anybody who wants you to pay for the rest of the story. They are in it for the money.
Be especially wary of anybody who with a political axe to grind. Not all politicians are themselves running for office; some just want their favorite party to win. Half of the people in this country hate the current president; the other half of the people hated his predecessor. Both groups would do anything to bad-mouth and demonize the poor guy just trying to do his job of keeping the country safe. Lies are cheap.
Although saying this may gore my own ox, you should also be careful of anybody with a religious axe to grind -- atheists are at least as untrustworthy as the churchified fundamentalists.
Finally, a person who has been shown untrustworthy (even in minor facts),
will probably lie again. Check the facts you have access to, as a predictor
of the quality of the reporting you cannot check. For example, TIME
magazine has strong anti-Bush and anti-Christian biases; I know about Christianity,
and many of their reports are just plain wrong. That tells me that I should
also not trust their political reporting. I have a science education, and
much of TIME's science reporting (except in science-religion
conflict cases) is reasonably good. That means I can usually trust them
also for science reporting in areas where I cannot check the facts independently
I will discuss at greater length below the human nature of those alleged conspirators. The point here is that those spreading CTs are not all themselves evil liars; most of them lack the capacity or self-discipline to invent a coherent and credible CT fabrication, or even to check out the facts, but they can repeat uncritically what they read or hear elsewhere. It is human nature to want to believe they are better than them evil conspirator varmits.
It's easy to distinguish the gullible and ignorant from the scientific
and cautious. People argue their best points first. When they run out of
logic, they resort to insults and ad hominem attacks on the person of their
opponents. Most of the CTs are promoted on blogs where anybody can (and
does) respond, with any ignorant rants they feel like. The lead remarks
are posted by somebody with an agenda, and everybody else chimes in with
assorted insults. Those are the gullible parties on both sides. Most scientists
and educators stick to the facts.
Real science has precise numbers and a lot of irrelevant detail. Fake science uses vague generalities which cannot be checked.
Real scientists are not afraid to explain their terminology, often with simple analogies; the fakers use a lot of technical-sounding words without telling you what they mean.
Real scientists tell you the whole story, the negatives with the positives. Real journalists always try to quote experts on both sides of any controversy. Sometimes, on topics where the journalists and their editors are themselves bigoted (like abortion or evolution), the opposing side is represented by buffoons and hicks, but it's always there. Sales pitches and hoaxes are given with one side only. If you see only one point of view, you can be sure they don't trust you to discern the facts. That's because the facts don't support the story.
CTs are particularly popular for historical situations where most of the facts can no longer be checked with the rigor we are used to in the 21st century. CTs do not survive when people can investigate the allegations, but they thrive when the accusers can claim (however falsely, it matters not, because the claims cannot be verified) that the evidence was intentionally destroyed. Do not be misled, there are still plenty of facts that can be checked. Of course they won't tell you about those other, disagreeable facts.
There is one sure-fire clue to a hidden agenda, that contradictory factors are mentioned to support it. People with a hidden agenda are only interested in selling their agenda; they don't worry much about how well their story hangs together. No airliner hit the Pentagon, they tell us, yet they also insist Cheney knew of the airliner when it was 50 miles out. Either there was a plane or not, but not both. If they really wanted you to know the truth, then they would make sure they told you only the truth. If the whole thing is a fabrication, a few discrepancies here and there don't matter (to them).
Checking the facts takes time and effort. Most people are too busy or
lazy to do it. Repeating a story without checking it out is easy. Make
the effort, or you too will be easily deluded.
For a conspiracy to work, every member of the conspiracy must have motive, means, and opportunity to do their part, and the parts must sum up to the whole fraud being perpetrated. This is important. The CTs all involve massive fraud, murder (often many victims), and large sums of money.
Everybody wants money. That goes without saying, but exactly who is getting this money, and who is paying it? As (actual, now confessed) conspirator "Deep Throat" once said, "follow the money." Who is paying, and what do they get for their money? Remember everybody wants money, including the people allegedly paying for these services. Why should they pay so much? What are they getting for it? The so-called debunkers don't tell you these things, because if they did, their theory would fall on its face.
While people will do almost anything for vast sums of money, murder generally isn't in the list, except for the criminals who have had this attitude all their lives and therefore usually get caught and sent to jail pretty young. Once in a while somebody thinks they can get away with it, but it's a tough call, and they are very unlikely to want to work with a team large enough to pull off a massive conspriacy of the size the CTs are all about, because of the risk that one of them will chicken out and turn state's evidence. This is far more true of people who have wealth and power and social standing, because they have so much to lose; criminals and poor people have nothing to lose, yet even they are reluctant to risk jail or execution for money. There's a simple credibility test: would you do it? If not, then neither would anybody else.
Chuck Colson, President Nixon's "hatchet man", was actually in a cover-up conspriacy. The stakes were moderately high: disgrace and prison (Colson served time), but a dozen men with all the power of the US Presidency could not keep it a secret for two weeks. "Deep Throat" was another actual conspiracy at the same time, but Woodward and Bernstein never denied the conspiracy; they only refused to say who he was. Besides, they believed they were acting in the public interest, and the public largely agreed with them. CTs that you read about on the internet don't have those advantages. The conspirators are alleged to have acted unlawfully, committed murder and fraud, and most Americans would be appalled at what it is claimed they did. People can't live with that on their conscience. Criminals seem to, but because of that, those criminals are involved in crime all their lives. They don't suddenly commit massive murder and fraud after a half-life of being perfect citizens, without huge pangs of guilt. Yes, you read about ordinary-seeming people who went on a killing rampage, but they always act alone, and they generally kill themselves at the end. They are nothing like the kinds of people the CTs want you to believe happened.
Collaboration is a virtue. It made the USA the richest, most powerful nation on the earth, possibly in all history. Evil people, the kind of people in those CTs, they don't want to work together. Everybody wants to be in charge. If one of them actually succeeds in clawing his way to the top of the conspiracy, everybody else is fighting to knock him off and take his place.
Nobody ever in history is ever known to have formed a conspiracy to commit massive fraud and murder. Nobody. There are plenty of allegations, but none of them are ever substantiated. Why? These things can't happen. Society won't let them. Even the Unabomber was turned in by his own family. He was a loner; how much more a conspiracy involving multiple people? It only takes one defector to blow the conspiracy, as Chuck Colson points out.
It could be argued that the people selling CTs themselves form a conspiracy. They certainly have conspiracy on their mind. They have a profit motive, selling their sensationalism or descrediting the President (or both), and they are trying to cover up all dissent by fraudulently promoting false "facts". But I don't believe it. All conspiracy theories are wrong, including this one. The conspiracy advocates are too gullible and/or greedy to conspire for a common cause.
So what can you believe? A small conspiracy involving at most two or
three people, with only one or two casualties of unimportant people might
succeed -- for a while. If high government officials are involved, there
are too many people too eager to take them out, so if there really is a
conspiracy, their cover will blow very quickly. If large numbers of people
died, the public will find out. Bet on it.
Follow the money. I'm not selling anything related to this web page. I write computer software to sell, and if you go to my home page, you will see how to get in touch with me, but you can't get there from here. This is not a marketing gimmick. I believe in Truth, and the lies promoted in these CTs annoy me.
Look for political clues. Most of the modern CTs have them: they usually blame the President or some other high government official. I don't happen to like the current President of the USA (I voted against him), but he's President and he's doing the best he can. Gore and Kerry could not have done better. It's a tough job. It's tougher with everybody snapping at his heels.
2007 May 30