- The moon landings were fake.
- Global warming is a hoax.
- 9/11 was an inside job.
- The Illuminati secretly rule the world.
- Shape-shifting Reptilians from Alpha Draconis secretly rule the world.
- Area 51 in the Nevada desert is hiding alien artefacts.
- The CIA killed President Kennedy.
- President Obama was not born in the US.
- Big drug companies are hiding the cure for cancer.
Not all conspiracy theories are false. Some turn out to be true, like Watergate, Russian trolls, Project MK-ULTRA or Cointelpro. And that is the whole trouble with conspiracy theories: there is no easy way to tell the true from the false.
Compare and contrast:
- A scientific theory comes to conclusions from known facts and provides a way to prove it false. It is falsifiable.
- A conspiracy theory is based on secret facts no one can know, by their very nature, and is therefore hard to prove wrong. When people in the know deny it, it is seen as a cover-up. “They would say that, wouldn’t they!”
Is it true? Things to check out:
- Science: What does the science say? This is how many conspiracy theories are proved to be false. Science is not always right, but it is more likely to be right than a conspiracy theory. Global warming, therefore, is likely not a hoax.
- Leaks: are how many conspiracies are proved true, like Watergate by Deep Throat. The bigger the conspiracy or the longer it lasts, the more likely its cover will be blown by a leak. No leaks means there was probably no conspiracy to begin with. If the moon landings were fake, for example, their cover would have been blown long ago. Someone would have talked.
- Faceless Theys: The more faceless the They behind the conspiracy, the less likely it is true. Even when it comes to fake news and urban legends, the lack of concrete, confirmable facts (names, dates, places) is a dead giveaway.
- Occam’s Razor: the simplest theory that can account for the facts is most likely the right one. Conspiracy theories are often anything but the simplest explanation. Thus no Reptilian Overlords.
- Debunking websites: Check out what debunking websites say, like RationalWiki, Snopes and Skeptoid.com.
Keep in mind that even in the most tightly controlled scientific experiments, there are still coincidences and things that just cannot be explained. And most theories, true or false, will have strange facts that fit it, which can lead to confirmation bias.
Demographics: In the US conspiracy thinking is found on the left and the right, among the rich and poor, young and old, Black and White, and so on. Race and politics determine which conspiracy theories you are likely to believe in, but not the fact of conspiracy thinking itself. The only thing that seems to affect it is education: with more education, people are less likely to go for conspiracy theories.
– Abagond, 2016.
- debunking websites
- actual conspiracies
- fake news