"The purpose of this article is to redress a number of general myths concerning so-called 'conspiracy theories', repeated by media organisations and other self-proclaimed guardians of the orthodoxy, as well as people who have been erroneously convinced that conspiracy theories are intellectual aberrations rather the acknowledgment of a common historical and social phenomenon."
Debunking Myths on Conspiracy Theories
Article written by Gatecreepers.
The purpose of this article is to redress a number of general myths concerning so-called 'conspiracy theories', repeated by media organisations and other self-proclaimed guardians of the orthodoxy, as well as people who have been erroneously convinced that conspiracy theories are intellectual aberrations rather than the acknowledgment of a common historical and social phenomenon.
This document does not claim that every event is the product of a conspiracy. It remains true, however, that conspiracies are far more common than admitted by the establishment. Whether conspiracy or coincidence was involved, we believe that the matter should be arbitrated by evidence rather than falsehoods on the alleged motives or state of minds of alternative researchers.
For the purposes of this guide, a conspiracy theory may be defined as:
- A theory detailing the involvement of two or more people who have secretly or otherwise conspired to commit an act that is against the public interest, and furthermore who may have conspired to cover up these acts in concert with the media and other authorities.
Conspiracy theories should not be confused with other schools of alternate reality. Such claims may include:
- Supernatural claims. Elite groups may believe and act upon them, but those beliefs alone do not pertain to conspiracy as discussed in this document.
- Mythological or religious claims. A theory that an occult group engages in subversion according to its religious beliefs may be considered a conspiracy theory, but interpretations of religion and scriptures are not covered by this manual.
- Claims pertaining to alternative science. The act itself of covering up scientific discoveries is a conspiracy, but the legitimacy of the scientific claims are to be determined by researchers with the proper qualifications.
- Existential claims. Claims pertaining to the alleged existence of hidden or unobservable phenomena or beings (such as aliens) are not in and of themselves conspiracy theories. Inexperienced proponents of such claims however may attempt to justify their lack of evidence with a conspiracy theory, usually that the evidence is covered up by the government or the entity alleged to exist (in most cases, however, this is a straw man). This secondary claim must be addressed apart from the primary claim with at least evidence that the alleged conspirators believe in the existence of the alleged phenomena, and that they have made attempts to cover it up.
If the entity is alleged to be a participating actor in a conspiracy, then its existence must be proven and the entire claim must be treated as a conspiracy theory.
Conspiracy myths may be divided into the following categories:
- Claims that discredit proponents of conspiracy theories as legitimate researchers
Ad Hominem attacks are often leveled at conspiracy theorists to label them as paranoid, delusional, extremist, hyperbolic or mentally incompetent. In the case of academics, attempts will be made to undermine their credibility by labeling them as incompetent, unprofessional, or lacking objectivity, or by publicising issues of their lives or beliefs that are unrelated to the theories they propose.
- Claims that associate conspiracy theories with group behaviour or psychological pathology
This category is a subset of the first category, but it gets special mention because a large amount of anti-conspiracy propaganda aims at using scientific-sounding theories to equate it with paranoia, frivolous fantasies or security blankets.
Claims of this nature are usually made by purported experts from various academic fields. Like the specifically listed claims such as #1, #5, #9, #13, #20, #21 and #22, other claims trying to pin conspiracy theories on group behaviour and psychological disorders are groundless and pseudo-scientific.
In extreme cases of demonisation, there may be attempts to conflate belief in conspiracies with paranoid delusion. As pointed out in Myth #16, pathologising anti-establishment researchers has been done in many authoritarian regimes such as current Communist China and the historical Soviet Union, with various labels ranging respectively from 'political maniac' to 'sluggishly progressing schizophrenic'.
There may also be attempts to pin belief in conspiracies on sociological reasons, such as alleged needs to 'make sense of a traumatic event' and similarly formulated 'theories'. Those claims are usually found in articles which, despite being written by experts in their own field, rarely cite or point to academic research, are filled with political bias and aim at discrediting a specific conspiracy that started to gain prominence. Articles of this nature are formulaic and often start with statements alleging that conspiracy theories are popular amongst average people and have accompanied most major events (Claim #29).
- Claims made by academic scholars that delegitimise the role of conspiracies played in society and history
Many scholars reject conspiracy theories in favour of the so-called 'institutional' perspective, which ascribes events to the dynamics of institutions rather than organised groups. We do not believe that conspiracies and institutions are mutually exclusive; they often work together. Certain institutions that are taken for granted originated from conspiracies; likewise, institutional factors may explain what motivates people and groups to conspire.
We believe that the conspiratorial point of view has its merits because not all activities operate within recognised institutions. Hidden, extra-institutional groups can exert major influence in ways that are overlooked by institutionalists.
Possible reasons why conspiracy theories are frequent targets of ridicule may include:
- Institutionalised intellectual elitism. Mainstream media personalities and academics may feel that their authority and experience are challenged by what they perceive to be 'amateur' research, while seeing themselves in the role of gatekeepers who filter the information to protect the public from what they view as 'unsuitable' information.
- Deliberate propaganda campaigns aimed at protecting established truths. An example of such a practice has been documented by a declassified document admitting attempts by the CIA to use academics and the media to discredit alternative theories on the assassination of JFK. The document reveals that many of the myths still widespread today and debunked in this document originated from the CIA (see Countering Criticism of the Warren Report). Other documents reveal CIA infiltration of American and foreign media as well as academia (see How to co-opt academia and Operation Mockingbird).
- The presence of unfounded and over the top conspiracy theories which undermine the credibility of more rational theories. It is speculated that many of those theories were deliberately spread in order to divide or ridicule research communities as well as confuse or turn away people who come across the alternative versions of the official story.
- Perception of conspiracy theories as being part of a cultural phenomenon or fad rather than a serious investigation of the motives and actions of the ruling elite. Such perceptions are reinforced by stereotypical portrayals in movies and sitcoms, such as 1997 movie Conspiracy Theorist and Dale Gribble in King of the Hill. This stereotypical view of conspiracy theorists, however, appears to be limited to American culture; in fact the expression 'conspiracy theorist' itself appears to be an invention of the American media. Most equivalent terms in other languages are directly translated, sometimes awkwardly (such as in French "partisan de la théorie du complot"), and are not used to label other people to the extent that they in the United States. It is also mainly in American language that one finds expressions such as "tin-foil hat". It is thought that those cultural caricatures originate from the controversies around the JFK assassinations, possibly with initial or on-going prompting from the CIA (see point #2).
The following is a collection of general statements purporting to dismiss conspiracy theories heard in various places from mainstream media articles to discussion forums. A separate document with sources and examples will be provided in the future.
Myth #1: Conspiracy theories show a simplistic view of how the world is run.
This claim is made about theories that involve elite organisations and secret societies. Academics claim that such theories are simplistic because they offer certainty and knowledge of hidden affairs, that secret activities are easily understood, only obscured. In other words, the actual claim is that real world is confusing and random (see Myth #24). The claim that conspiracy theories are too simple really says that conspiracy theories are too clear and well defined.
However, such dismissals are often used as a pretext to trivialise the roles played by secretive elite groups. Theories that rule out the importance of elite organisations that wield dominant power offer a view of the world that is not only simplistic, but that distorts the reality of power relations and hides the inequities and democratic deficits of the world.
Another purpose behind this claim is to take a political, military or national security disaster and revise it to fit the image of the familiar stressful day to day world, with all it's accompanying incompetencies. Yet, it is precisely this picture that is simplified. There are no conspiracies, only mistakes. There are no unseemly activities except for those named in the statutes of the state. Lying on the witness stand is illegal, yet lying to the people is a misunderstanding.
In either case, there is little grounds for the claim that conspiracy theories simplify the world. Below the surface, they require people to understand complex concepts including propaganda mechanisms, manufacturing of consent, and how elites gain and maintain their positions of power. Such concepts are not readily accessible to the general public because they are usually ignored or ridiculed by the mainstream media.
On the other hand, theories that rule out the existence of elite organisations are appealing because they give people the illusion that they have power and are living in an open society. Therefore, the absence of the concept of a destructive elite will mean that the people never take action to defend against the activities of that elite.
Myth #2: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof
Just because someone says a claim is extraordinary does not make it so. People often label any theories that are contrary to the government's version as 'extraordinary', thus implying that the government and it's associated media have a monopoly on what is considered reasonable.
Claims are only extraordinary if they have no historical precedent. Therefore, all that is needed to prove that the theory can be proven with ordinary evidence is to point out to a similar case that has happened before.
Myth #3: Conspiracy theories violate Occam's Razor
Many people use the phrase as a slick way of dismissing an argument without confronting its supporting evidence, sometimes assuming that the evidence is speculation without having looked at it at all. Often, those people miss the fact that the official theory is questioned partly because it violates Occam's Razor
Many conspiracy theorists accept Occam's Razor as a useful technique to refine their theories and eliminate those that rest on too many unproven assertions. However, its premises have been challenged, not least by Occam's contemporaries. Walter of Chatton, for example, formulated his own anti-razor: ("If three things are not enough to verify an affirmative proposition about things, a fourth must be added, and so on").
Thus, the theory of parsimony only applies insofar as the simplest theory sufficiently explains how the events occur. It must therefore be discarded in favour of a more complex theory if the previous one has holes. The misconception that only simple theories are acceptable flies in the face of the argument that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof', because it makes it impossible to prove theories that rely on complex evidence.
Furthermore, Occam's razor is a scientific theory, and thus applies to scientific principles. When two scientific theories make the same prediction, and both predictions appear to be correct then the one that is most simple is accepted.
This is inapplicable to social sciences however because of the unpredictable human element involved. Whilst purely physical or chemical reactions can be held to Occam's razor, activities by conscious beings cannot, as conscious beings can deliberately add complexity to events, or they can behave in irrational ways. As an example: the capacity for evil is part of human nature, so it is known that both government and non-government entities are equally capable of evil acts. The way to determine which is more likely to do the evil task is completely based on subjective opinion.
Theories should be eliminated by the success or failure of experiments to test their predictions, rather than by Occam's razor alone. It should also not be interpreted as excluding speculation. In the presence of sufficient circumstantial evidence, such as conflict of interest, historical precedents and previous incidents of cover-ups, it is acceptable to assume that some evidence is still being covered up and will not be shown to the public.
Myth #4: Conspiracy theorists believe in UFOs / Aliens / Apollo Moon / Holocaust denial
This is a straw man and an ad hominem fallacy. Not all conspiracy theorists believe in the same things, nor does believing in aliens invalidate their arguments on other theories. The only thing linking these things is that they are all perceived to be conspiracy theories. Each should be evaluated on its own merits.
However, if a theorist bases their beliefs on poor argumentation, then other conspiracy theorists may want to distance themselves from him/her or question that theorist's ability to support their own ideas. Many such people are accused of being deliberately planted to discredit other theories, a technique called the 'poisoned well'. The media then proceeds to discredit an entire investigative movement based on a few silly theories - a strawman attack.
When the media lumps anybody who doesn't trust the government version of 9-11 into the category of flat earthers and holocaust deniers, any real conspiracy there might have been is given the ultimate defense. Namely, a pre-emptive, universal ad hominem on anyone who would dare talk about it publicly, the archetypal 'tin foil hatter'.
Myth #5: Government conspiracy theories provide false relief from real social problems
Actually, the opposite is true. People would rather believe that the government is benevolent and works in their interests, and are repelled by the idea that it would conspire against them. Part of the reason is knowing that there is something wrong with the system would force people to take actions they would otherwise avoid. Hence, it is the denial of the conspiracy rather than the theory that relieves them from dealing with a problem.
Far from being comforted by conspiracies, those who already believe them feel distressed or resentful towards the ruling elites who perpetrate the problems. This myth also contradicts the idea that conspiracy theories make people paranoid (Myth #37).
Myth #6: Conspiracy theories violate Popper's rule of falsifiability
Karl Popper's rule of scientific falsifiability is useful to discard many bogus theories, especially those relying on pseudoscience. However, groupthink and predetermined conclusions are problems that every researcher has to face. Conspiracy theorists are no exceptions; they also need to avoid those pitfalls.
Detractors who raise Popper's rule claim that conspiracy theorists justify lack of evidence by saying that the evidence is covered up by the government. This is an appeal to ignorance fallacy and it should be avoided. However, such arguments are mostly seen in casual debates from people who have not conducted thorough research on the subject and have run out of arguments. In addition, while this particular argument may be unfalsifiable, just the fact that it is sometimes used does not invalidate conspiracy theories on the whole as unfalsifiable.
Some of the claims dismissed by Popper's test are not actual conspiracy theories, yet are used to judge conspiracy theories in general. An example of such ideas would be existential claims (as explained in the introduction). In other cases, claims may actually be speculative and not claimed to be factual.
It is sensible to speculate on why a government would be interested in keeping evidence secret - when it can be proven that they are withholding evidence. In these cases, conspiracy theories are acceptable, as a conspiracy of secrecy has taken place. It may also be sensible to speculate that more evidence will be uncovered as more whistle blowers come forward, when they realise that enough people have caught on for them to present their stories. However, contrarily to popular myth, conspiracy theorists do not use this to 'prove' their theories, as they usually are backed by evidence.
Obviously, for any evidence to be valid it must fit all legal and scientific definitions of what it means to be "evidence." Due to the fact that a conflict of interest exists with individuals in government not being willing to expose or prosecute themselves or their associates, it is reasonable to assume that any small amount of legitimate evidence of wrongdoing which has "slipped through the cracks" should be reason for further investigation by an impartial third party, rather than an investigation potentially run by the perpetrators themselves.
Legitimate evidence that exists is often not given the necessary attention until long after the crimes were committed, giving the damage from the crimes much time to escalate past the point of being correctable. Given such a scenario, it is the nature of the institutions rather than that of the accusations which is the cause for the catch-22.
Myth #7: Governments are unable to cover up their conspiracies
This is flatly untrue. There are many examples of government projects that involved thousands of people who did not speak out, including the Manhattan Project.
Even if taken at face value, the people who attempt to blow the whistle usually do so because the government was unable to cover up its activities, but are often silenced or ignored by the media. The people who do take them seriously are usually marginalised and discredited on grounds of other myths, such as the one holding that whistleblowers would be killed by the government (Myth #18). The result is that of a circular logic loop that makes real questions impossible.
This claim is also based on a misconception regarding the possible actors in a conspiracy: incompetent politicians and bureaucrats are very different from highly trained military intel and determined corporations.
Contrarily to popular beliefs, conspiracy theorists do not view the government as an omnipotent, omnipresent and infallible entity. In fact, a lot of their evidence comes from slip-ups or failures by elites to cover up their crimes, but people refuse to believe it because they are conditioned into the circular belief that the same evidence being exposed to the public would have been exposed to the public.
Even in the event that some of the cover-up falls apart, governments exercise damage control in order to allow only part of the conspiracy to be exposed. For example, the fact the so many people now believe there was a 9-11 conspiracy is evidence that any cover-up has not been completely successful. To say that the government could not be involved because no whistleblowers have come forward to admit involvement is essentially flawed in two distinct ways:
Firstly, it assumes that any guilty parties would incriminate themselves, something that is ludicrous to assume, knowing the penalty for treason (see Myth #38).
Secondly, a false dichotomy is erected, stating that, without whistleblowers and leaks, the coverup is 'too perfect', therefore the absence of whistleblowers is the absence of conspiracy, when a logical reason for the absence of whistleblowers has already been provided.
Myth #8: Conspiracies would be quickly exposed by the media
In a society where the media is free and the society is open and democratic, this would seem to be an appropriate assumption. However, many societies that claim to have a free press actually have a corporate-controlled press, infiltrated by state intelligence agents. The elite that controls the media has the advantage to cover up its own crimes or protect their cronies while pretending to keep the rulers in check.
Conspiracies are only exposed in medias that are independent and not controlled by the ruling elite. People are often made to believe that the society they live in is open and democratic, even if the opposite is true. This illusion plays a large role in leading people to assume that conspiracies would not happen because they would be exposed, which is what conspirators rely upon to commit their crimes without being exposed.
When confronted with whistleblowers, the media either refuses to cover their story, only cover the least damaging aspects of the story, or only expose minor scandals to maintain the illusion of a press doing its job as an investigator. Conspiracies are often too complex to be covered by the modern day 30 second-per-story summaries that masquerade as television news.
Revealing a conspiracy would endanger a journalist's job or freedom, and damage relations between the authorities and the corporate media, as well as making the population suspicious and possibly uncontrollable. It is easier to cover-up difficult subjects.
In general, establishment medias tend to scorn conspiracy theories, whether they have substance or not. This may be motivated by ego: if a journalist only received information from an official propaganda outlet or PR department, and this information was later disproven, it would show the public how bad the journalistic research was, and those organisations would then suffer a loss of credibility.
In the cases of elitist groups, it is worth noting that they are often owned or controlled by the members of the same societies whose importance they trivialise. Such a state of affairs makes it easy for the political elite to hide their actions in plain view, as the media distracts most people from them by giving them little coverage, and spins them for the people who do notice.
Myth #9: Conspiracy theories are attractive for their entertainment value
Conspiracy theories, whether true or not, are better known to grow in an atmosphere of official secrecy and lies rather than out of a desire for entertainment, which is already plentiful in the media. From experience, conspiracy theorists have learnt to distrust the official story peddled by the government.
Also, people who take such theories seriously tend to be more frightened or angered than entertained, because of the implications of having been deceived.
Myth #10: Conspiracy theorists repeat their claims no matter how much they are debunked
This is a cop-out excuse to avoid addressing the issues, and it relies on the assumption that all the claims have been debunked. Often times the people who make those claims only address the weakest or silliest arguments while ignoring the strongest ones, a tactic called the straw man. In some cases, the objections raised by the person have already been debunked elsewhere, though the rebuttals will be dismissed as 'repeating' claims. In the most extreme cases, the person will claim that the theory has been debunked over and over again by 'experts', even though there are no such rebuttals.
It must also be pointed out that debunking articles are not always final, but rather they may be part of an ongoing debate between theorists and anti-theorists.
Myth #11: Conspiracy theories undermine confidence in the democratic system
The opposite is true. It is democratic deficit and decrease of confidence in the system that makes conspiracy theories more credible in the face of the lies told by the establishment media.
Some systems are demonstrably corrupt and need to be exposed. Even so, no system has the right to demand silence and absolute obedience from it's subjects. Variety of opinion is important. If there is suspicion or proof of wrongdoing then conspiracy theorists must provide good reasons not to trust the system. If the theorists are wrong then the theories should be disproven, not suppressed because they are inconvenient for the system. What kind of honest respectable system requires information suppression in order to function?
Myth #12: Conspiracy theories are based on faith
Many people, especially atheists, scientists and historians, tend to put conspiracy theories in the same category as creationism and holocaust revisionism. This is illogical, and is only intended as an 'attack by association'. It should be pointed out that an attacker may lack sufficient evidence to attack a theory directly, so they settle for the easy but illogical option of associating a theory with a ridiculous myth because the myth is easy to discredit. This is a variation of the straw man attack.
In truth, conspiracy theories have little to do with religion. Like court charges, they may be held accountable to evidence, whether in favour or against, in the form of inconsistencies and material proof (or lack thereof) of motive, means, precedent, intent, and execution. Religions, on the other hand, rely solely on ancient scriptures which often have been tampered, translated, are subject to broad interpretation (far more so than the more far-fetched conspiracy theories), and were written in times when scientific knowledge was much less developed.
Another reason this argument is made is because atheists believe that conspiracy theorists are absorbed in their beliefs in the same way that religious people believe in their religion based on faith rather than reason. Such cases are not specific to belief in conspiracy theories; rather they are an ego reaction inherent to the underdog status of conspiracy theories conferred by the media.
Most conspiracy theorists do not feel emotional attachment to their theories; only some of them do after being marginalised for promoting an alternative view. Ridicule targets the theorist personally, by attributing the silly aspects of the theory to him, and thus the ridicule defines his relationship toward the proponents of the status-quo. The theorist, on some level, links the ridiculed theory to his integrity and honesty and so strives to prove it's validity, in order to clear his smeared name.
Similar irrationality can also be seen with official story proponents who are unwilling to believe that authority figures may conspire to harm their citizens, and would have much to lose from realising that the world they are living in is far more corrupt than they want to believe.
Myth #13: Conspiracy theorists are paranoid and engage in fearmongering
The news media engages in far more fearmongering than do conspiracy theorists, by making people believe that criminals and terrorists are out to get them. The difference is that conspiracy theorists say that the government is usually the cause, and not the solution to those problems.
Politicians use fearmongering to make people accept their rules about how society should be controlled, and the mainstream media helps them do this. Conspiracy theorists have no such goals of control, nor the means to achieve those goals.
Paranoia is a mental disorder - and so this myth suggests that conspiracy theorists are inventing enemies and tormentors, when in fact many theories arise as challenges to percieved impossibilities or inaccuracies in an official story, rather than non-existent entities.
This myth by itself neither proves nor disproves any proposed theories. This myth also contradicts the idea that people use conspiracy theories to assuage their fears of social problems (Myth #5).
Myth #14: Conspiracy theorists are anti-semitic
Most conspiracy theorists are not interested in the conspirator's origins or religion at all. They wish to study and expose a corrupt system. They do this by pointing out special and suspicious relationships, not culture. This is an important difference. Many of the organisations mentioned in conspiracy theories lack any religious or cultural identity. They are corporate, military, financial or petroleum-based. That being said, Jews engage in conspiracies like other people, and are not immune from criticism.
While a minority of conspiracy theorists do believe that there is a specifically Jewish elite, most conspiracy theorists are far more concerned by political agendas, such as Zionist and Israeli influences in national governments, than Jewish cultural and racial issues. Many conspiracy theorists are not concerned with Jews or Zionism at all, but are accused of anti-semitism because they denounce the excessive power held by international bankers (which is claimed by organisations like the ADL to be 'code' for Jews).
In turn, the stereotype is used by some people as an ad hominem attack on conspiracy theorists and critics of Zionism, as well as a straw man, much like the Jewish conspiracy originated as an ad hominem attack on communists, as many of them were Jews at the time. Disinformation agents can also publically pose as anti-semitic conspiracy theorists in order to get all conspiracy theorists smeared with these characteristics.
It is up to the accusers to prove the presence of anti-semitism in specific relevant cases, and furthermore to prove the theory wrong. Pointing out anti-semitism does not render a theory false.
Myth #15: Conspiracy theorists give themselves a false academic façade to tell half-truths
Conspiracy theorists do not need a façade when they present whistleblowers, financial accounts, official documents, video footage, declassified documents and relevant quotes from the people they accuse. The accusation above suggests that the theorists only use a façade, which isn't true: evidence and credible interviewees are frequently presented.
Also, this is a conflation of an argument usually made about Holocaust revisionists and creationists. Conspiracy theorists do not generally have financial or prestige motives to destroy their academic credibility for the sole purpose of promoting their pet theories
The situation is different for the corporate media, which promotes their propaganda using paid scientists either to sell their products, or because they are controlled by elites wishing to maintain their power. Therefore, accusing conspiracy theorists of posing as academics is more than hypocritical.
Myth #16: Conspiracy theorists are crazy / nutty / kooky / cranky
According to the Soviet and the Chinese governments, so were the political dissidents who were interned in psychiatric hospitals.
Most conspiracy theorists are rational people who simply believe in a different version of events than the one promoted by the official media. In fact, the term 'conspiracy theory' was invented for that purpose by the media to discredit people who did not accept the official story of President Kennedy's assassination.
On the internet, conspiracy topics unfortunately suffer from attacks by professional disinformation agents who pose as conspiracy theorists. They then support blatently ridiculous ideas and present those ideas in a manner that is difficult to take seriously, thus smearing all conspiracy theorists with the same characteristics.
It is important to have varied sources of information. If one only relies on information fed to them by the corporations and governments, how is one able to have a realistic enough view on reality to decide who is insane and whom is not?
Myth #17: Conspiracy theories assume the involvement of a large number of people
Conspiracy theories usually require only the top of the hierarchical structures to be in on the conspiracy, not the subordinates. While the subordinates may be involved in a conspiracy, they are usually unaware of their part in that conspiracy because they are split up and made to focus on very specific tasks which require their skills: a phenomenon called compartmentalisation. However, it often happens that they find out, and either blow the whistle or get silenced.
Compartmentalisation attempts to ensure that any spy, worker or whistleblower is only able to gather knowledge related to their compartment, thus preventing them from seeing the details of the operation in it's entirety.
Anti-conspiracy theorists often inflate the possible number of participants in a conspiracy to ridiculous proportions. They then use this exaggerated example as a straw man that they can easily knock down, because it is so extensive and unreasonable.
Myth #18: Conspiracy whistleblowers would be dead if their claims were true.
Governments do not kill people because they point out conspiracy theories. Rather, they rely on repeating myths such as this one to ensure that people do not believe anything other than what is deemed acceptable by the controlled media. However, this tactic is a double-edged sword: if they do kill a whistleblower, then it makes the government look like it is desperate to hide a secret and therefore gives credence to his theory. This is why the government only silences or harrasses whistleblowers who threaten to release inside evidence that is not already public and would threaten the entire operation.
While killing whistleblowers may be necessary as an example to prevent others from speaking out, it is done as a last resort because it would risk driving more important people into spilling the beans, thinking that they have nothing to lose and would more likely be saved by making their deaths pointless.
Another reason why prominent activists aren't killed is that many of them are planted gatekeepers whose purpose is either to limit the debate, or discredit the movement.
Myth #19: Conspiracy theories blame evil actors whilst failing to address root causes
This argument is often used by left gatekeepers, especially radical leftists who blame the problems of society on the capitalist system and believe that conspiracy theorists are right-wingers.
While it is true that conspiracy theorists tend to focus a lot on the actions of individual actors, their theories usually rely on the assumption that corruption runs deep into the system. Examples of recurrent themes include media control by the elite, and phony democratic systems.
In fact, conspiracy theorists question deeper into the system than most mainstream theorists, as they take into account many factors that are usually ignored, such as the involvement of secret societies, think tanks and elitist organisations.
The 'underlying system' is not available for public scrutiny, and the key information is often classified and withheld. Conspiracy theorists must do what they can with what they have.
Myth #20: Conspiracy theories give a sense of exclusive knowledge
People are drawn to conspiracy theories because they are generally curious and want answers that offer more detail than the mainstream media gives. This is not exclusive knowledge. Many conspiracy theorists strive to share their sources of info, not hide them.
People are drawn to the 9-11 conspiracy theories because they fill a gap in logic that is starkly absent from the official version of events. Is it easier to believe that a plastic laminated terrorist passport was planted evidence at ground zero, or that it survived the impact of the plane, the huge fireball, the raging inferno for a few hours and also the collapse that turned the whole building to dust, rubble and molten metal?
If anything, it is the mainstream media that should be blamed for not doing their jobs by exposing the information in the first place.
Myth #21: Conspiracy theorists feel powerless and blame the establishment for their failures
This is not logical. Powerlessness alone does not cause people to question their leaders. However, observation and study of the political and economic causes of powerlessness can lead to acceptance of conspiracy theory. In other words, it is not the powerlessness of the individual which enables suspicion, but rather the systemic causes of that powerlessness.
The same goes for claims that conspiracy theorists distrust their friends, which conflates suspicion of government with paranoid delusion. Suspicion is targeted specifically towards the political elite, while in many cases friendships may be strengthened out of solidarity in its opposition. Likewise, whether the conspiracy theorist will fight against the system or use the knowledge as an excuse to justify their apathy depends on the personality of the subject.
Myth #22: Conspiracy theories are reassuring because they give a sense of order
The claim that conspiracy theorists crave order is based on the erroneous belief that conspiracy theorists suffer from an a perceived absence of central authority. In fact, the majority of theorists prize individuality and freedom more than the average person, and will therefore be more sensitive to systemic abuse.
Furthermore, reassurance isn't possible because most conspiracy theories refer to corrupt dishonest leadership, and/or semi-secretive criminal activities which are damaging to society.
Myth #23: Conspiracy theorists accuse people who disagree with them of being part of the cover-up
Like other people, conspiracy theorists occasionally fall prey to ad hominem fallacies, but those accusations may sometimes be justified. Naturally, such charges need to be backed up with evidence.
Cases where there might be justifiable grounds to be suspicious include researchers (whether establishment or not) who systematically and deliberately use personal attacks or a tone aiming at discrediting their opponents, resort to fallacious argumentation, or ignore key points in the arguments made by their opponents. Furthermore, if those fallacies are out of character with their usual argumentation style or depth of reasoning, there might be grounds to suspect that the subject(s) were silenced or blackmailed. Suspicion alone, however, should not be equated with the arguments made to counter the claims of the opponent.
It is to be noted that if an investigation is led by the same people who are being accused, it will rightfully be regarded as suspicious. In those cases, the logic loop is perpetrated by the official story proponents rather than the alternative theorists. Independent investigations should at all times be made sure to be truly independent.
Myth #24: The world is chaotic rather than conspiratorial
This is circular argumentation. While it may be portrayed as a 'reasonable' or 'moderate' assumption about the world, it is based on no other evidence than events appearing to be coincidental, which is due to lack of exposure of conspiracies. Hence, conspiracies are assumed to not occur because the world is chaotic, which is believed to be so because conspiracies are assumed to not occur.
In reality, it is extremely difficult to determine how many events are coincidental and how many are conspiratorial, because there can be chaos and unpredictability within conspiracies and there can be chaos amongst a very large number of conspiracies committed by many groups of people. It may be that conspiracies are actually a normal modus operandi for governments, just like they are known to be for terrorists.
When it comes to the authorities, almost everything is a conspiracy of one kind or another. It is not logical to think that their activities are nothing but coincidence. Most of the activities are neutral or perhaps benign to society, and the remainder are malevolent. The likelihood of an organisation taking part in a malevolent conspiracy increases in relation to the amount of resources they possess, and also to the amount of resources they wish to possess.
Myth #25: Conspiracy theorists believe that all aspects of every official story have to be consistent
Apart from trivialising the efforts of researchers to improve understanding of events and implying that government-sponsored theories are 'good enough' and should not aim to be accurate, this claim misrepresents the reasons why certain people doubt the mainstream theories.
Contrarily to the stereotype of conspiracy theorists fiddling at 'loose ends' to draw their own alternative conclusions, it is not only inconsistencies that make people interpret events in different ways, but rather those inconsistencies in combination with important facts that are altogether ignored by the official investigation which potentially implicate actors who stand to gain from the events. The questions of who benefits from the conspiracy and who has the means to carry it out is of far greater importance to the investigator, an absence of which makes the 'loose ends' of the story wholly irrelevant.
Myth #26: Conspiracy theory is an 'industry'
Even though a conspiracy theory might eventually become widespread, it is difficult for individual authors to gain recognition or wealth from their books or films because they are ignored by the mainstream publications and are on shoestring budgets. In fact, few rich authors have made their fortunes from conspiracy theories, except for a few writers and directors whose challenges to the establishment are limited and general, or disguised as fiction.
While the leading conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, Dylan Avery and David Icke sell many DVDs, their profits are small and mostly spent on producing their material and to sustain themselves and their employees, often at their personal financial loss. Also, more often than not, the distribution of their material on the internet at no charge far outweighs their sales as a means to make their ideas gain acceptance.
It is also important to point out that this claim neither proves nor disproves any proposed theories.
Myth #27: Conspiracy theorists dismiss evidence against their arguments as being part of the conspiracy
A corollary to Myth #23. As with their proponents, the arguments may be dismissed if they appear to be propaganda, disinformation, or if they are a red herring which contradicts many other facts.
Most, if not all true conspiracies would automatically be accompanied by a denial and disinfo campaign anyway, so contradictions in presented evidence are to be expected.
It is again to be noted that in any circumstances, evidence presented by an investigation led by the same party being accused is likely to be falsified, whether the subject is the government or a criminal organisation.
Myth #28: There have been conspiracy theories about every major historical event
Whether true or not, this statement is supposed to discredit conspiracy theories on account of their frequency. Like Myth #24, what the claim implies assumes what it is trying to prove, and is rarely accompanied by evidence that most historical events were the result of coincidences rather than conspiracies.
Myth #29: Conspiracy theories are convenient to their proponents because they are impossible to prove
This claim falsely assumes that conspiracy theorists feel the need to keep their theories alive solely out of emotional attachment for them. As shown in Myth #12, this is not the case; most people are only convinced by conspiracies when given an amount of evidence they consider sufficient; those who become emotionally attached only do so as a result of a defence mechanism against external pressure.
Like every other theory, conspiracy theories can be proven or disproven with evidence. However, the reason why this claim is made is because most investigations are neither independent nor transparent, and in many cases inexistent. Whether a conspiracy theory is true or false, both its proponents and its opponents should be part of the investigation rather than left only to trust and interpret its conclusions.
Myth #30: Conspiracy theories gain acceptance because they make sense out of traumatic events by designating scapegoats
While this theory sounds very academic, it is a carefully crafted spin. It is true that people need to make sense of traumatic events, but in a state of panic people will usually cling to the first explanation they hear, which is the reason why such events are so often and easily exploited (and in many cases staged) by governments for their own agendas. Hence, it is the government theory, which, often being itself a conspiracy theory and designating scapegoats, accomplishes the role of making sense out of the traumatic event, while alternate theories are shut out of the debate, and only gain acceptance much later when the shock effect settles down.
Myth #31: People look into conspiracy theories because they bring relief to uncertainty of traumatic events by filling the void
Even granting the allegations that conspiracies bring relief from uncertainty, it comes at the greater cost of stress associated with having to face a corrupt government and being forced to question the legitimacy of the system. In addition, adding complexity to a story is likely to bring less certitude, rather than more of it. In any case, conspiracy theorists are not particularly fearful of uncertainty, as they feel perfectly comfortable juggling with many different possibilities with regards to alternative theories to the official story.
Whether or not elements of conspiracy bring a soothing sense of certitude to a traumatising event, it does not make the official story more true or plausible. When all available evidence relating to a disputed event is put together, the likely conclusion is often more supportive of the leading conspiracy theories than of the official story, so it does not matter how people feel, as this is an issue concerning evidence, not emotions.
Furthermore, this accusation better fits the official story. Because people need to make sense out of traumatic events, they will cling to the first story that is presented to them. Hence, in order for the perpetrators to cover up their crimes, they must sell their cover story to the public before any alternative theory emerges.
Myth #32: Conspiracy theorists select evidence and fix it according to predetermined conclusions
Contrarily to media-spread stereotypes, conspiracy theorists don't make up theories just for fun. They are prompted by the existence of important evidence that contradicts the official story, or points at actors other than the ones being accused. Although they believe that all things presented as facts by the establishment should be questioned and taken with a healthy dose of skepticism, it does not mean that they will cling to the first theory they encounter. Often times they judge other alternative theories involving different actors and eliminate them when they cannot be sustained with evidence.
Pro-government researchers themselves may start from the conclusion because they are under pressure to prove the government's story. In these cases, the scope and methods of their investigations are pre-decided and faulty - this can result in the creation of alternate theories which include evidence and research not carried out by official representatives.
Myth #33: Conspiracy theorists are political extremists
This claim is not completely logical as it is rarely defined and attempts to smear conspiracy theorists through the universal application of an unpopular attribute - extremism. Whilst it can be argued that some theorists are extremists, by extension it must mean that others are not. It must be repeated that it is the theory itself which is under scrutiny, not the theorists, so attacks on the theorists don't address the issue which originally prompted this claim.
Accusations of political extremism imply that there are limits set as to which topics and ideas may and may not be debated, which effectively stigmatises certain ideas simply for being different from the norm. In practice, more often than not, those limits are defined by agents of socialisation affiliated to the political elite opposed by the conspiracy theorists.
Myth #34: Conspiracy theorists only look at evidence that confirms their theories
This phenomenon is called confirmation bias. While systemic bias can be found in any area of research, especially when dealing with politically charged subjects, it is not a feature particular to conspiracy theories. This claim assumes that conspiracy theorists have an inherent motive to predetermine the outcome of their research, a falsehood addressed in Myth #32.
Furthermore, this claim wrongly assumes that because there may be omitted evidence, that this evidence is both relevant and damaging enough to confront the conspiracy theory.
Myth #35: Conspiracy theories can cause insurrections
Whether people would rise up or not depends on the political culture of that country. In countries with frequent social upheavals, high solidarity and low trust in government institutions, awareness of a conspiracy may be more likely to lead to political pressure. However, those reactions are much less likely when the population is divided and more interested in entertainment than politics, and especially if the public has been successfully conditioned to trust its government.
Such criteria, however, should not be determined by the sole fact that that state's media has claimed its country to be democratic. An accumulation of awareness in government abuse may eventually lead to insurrection, although it may take much more time for people to grow restless.
It must be added that not all people truly value their lives or their liberty, and so they do not fear the loss of said values; they do not educate themselves on threats to these values, and they do not act to prevent these threats. The image of a mass insurrection is therefore unrealistic, as not all are motivated to take part.
Myth #36: Conspiracism results in an excessively diverse set of different narratives based on different assumptions
This is usually argued as opposed to the idea that so-called 'scientific' process would lead to a streamlined or 'united' theory. In fact, there are many examples in the domain of scientific research that show that this is not necessarily the case.
As in any ongoing investigation, a number of hypotheses are formulated and, over time, some are disproven whilst others are strengthened or proven. Of particular importance is the slow, ongoing release of evidence which helps or terminates these investigations. It is unscientific to demand the removal of narratives before evidence is found to prove or disprove them.
Indeed, the motivation behind this myth may be a dishonest one: to convince theorists to narrow the set of narratives until what remains is easily disprovable or dismissable due to lack of supporting evidence, or due to vagueness.
Myth #37: Believing in conspiracy theories makes people become paranoid
This myth fails to address the validity of the theory itself.
The use of the keyword 'paranoia' suggests strongly that the accused are inventing enemies because of mental disorders, rather than legitimately fearing existing dangerous entities. Essentially, the accusation suggests no proof or reasonable doubt supports the theorists' behaviour. This accusation may be made by people who, for political reasons, are ignoring, and will continue to ignore inconvenient truths.
If an entity can be legitimately feared, then it is reasonable to distrust anything else associated with it, as the entities' questionable behaviour is usually part of an ongoing pattern. This pattern suggests that what is known of that entities' actions is only a fraction of the true extent of their previous (and potential) actions. This may seem like paranoia to the inexperienced observer.
Myth #38: Conspirators would be overcome with guilt and confess
This myth, if used by itself, attempts to avoid all the evidence that supports the alternative theory, whilst attempting to apply the capacity for normal empathy and sympathy onto those who may not possess such capabilities. The plan is to use this manufactured 'humanity' to 'prove' that the accused were incapable of such acts.
This myth does not care to make the observation that many mass murderers, for example, have not shown remorse after their crimes - an indication that those who commit serious crimes repeatedly do not possess normal sympathetic and empathetic capabilities.
Myth #39: Conspiracy theories can only be proven through official acceptance
This myth may be used to suggest that any and all independent investigations are a waste of time - basically this myth is an appeal to authority. In truth, once a theory has enough supporting evidence, it proves itself. If the authorities do not acknowledge it, then they demonstrate themselves to be liars and damage their credibility further.
Myth #40: Conspiracy theories are a waste of time
This is a completely subjective observation that fails to address the validity of the theory itself. It is also false; in the pursuit of further understanding of the systems associated with these theories, the theorists usually learn much about the nature of politics, and are therefore better able to hold their leaders to account.
Myth #41: Conspiracy theories ascribe too often on malice what should be blamed on incompetence
Incompetence and accident are common defences for perpetrators when they are caught committing a crime. While it is true that principles of fundamental justice dictate that people should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, this does not mean that conspirators should continue to be presumed incompetent when evidence points towards a motive behind their alleged incompetence. The argument of incompetence wears thin when it can be shown that the entities in question have committed malicious acts in the past.
Myth #42: Conspiracy theories appeal because they validate personal biases
This is an ad hominem circumstantial fallacy coated with pseudoscientific psychology. While some people may attempt to justify otherwise unsustainable preconceived beliefs with conspiracy theories, this does not establish bias as the primary source of conspiracy theories. Furthermore, due to the limited importance of personal biases, the myth must therefore assume that all theorists carry these same biases as a common feature - which is unrealistic given how widespread conspiracies are today. Such theories rarely grow in complexity in the absence of supporting evidence unless there is a deliberate attempt at deception. Such an assertion would itself involve a conspiracy.
Myth #43: People believe in conspiracies because they don't know how things work
This is usually a stealthy appeal to authority, as it allows the proponent of this myth an opportunity to introduce their own chosen authority, after suggesting 'the masses' are unaware of reality or unable to comprehend aspects of it.
Pseudo-skeptics may also attempt to drown people in the details of the official theory in order to make them give up pursuit of the truth by 'demonstrating' how 'complicated' things are, and to give their own studies a façade of legitimacy through sheer complexity.
Myth #44: People believe in conspiracies because they make them feel empowered
This myth contradicts the idea that conspiracy theories justify apathy (see Myth #21). Both suggest a purely selfish and emotional basis for conspiracy theory - similar to Myth #12, rather than a basis of evidence or reasonable suspicion. This myth seeks to remove the very foundation of its chosen theory, so that that theory can be quickly dismissed on false claims of wishful thinking, as opposed to the evidence it was really built on.
Myth #45: Conspiracy theories appeal to common sense
This dismissal assumes that conspiracy theories are 'simplistic' explanations (see Myth #1). More often than not, this dismissal is a derivation of the fact that the official explanations are so absurd that they need to rely on obfuscation and sophistry in order to conceal their shoddy foundations.
Myth #46: Conspiracy theories are based on the psychological assumption that big events cannot result from random small causes
There are specific reasons for suspecting more than meets the eye in cases of traumatic events, not only psychological motives. As interested parties are more likely to benefit from major events than minor events, they are more likely to manufacture said events on a grander scale in order to achieve the maximum effect. It follows that major events are less likely to be random than minor ones.
Myth #47: Conspiracy theories are based on accumulation of circumstantial evidence rather than a chain of evidence
A corollary of this myth is the idea that conspiracy theories hold together even when part of it is disproved. This accusation is often leveled at conspiracy theories, but is usually vague as to how the evidence is 'circumstantial' or 'unstructured' as alleged. It also has more to do with the fact that the theories are alternative to the official one, than with their conspiratorial nature.
By their nature, alternative theories need to make the additional step of disproving the official theory. The alleged "chain of evidence" of the official story often ignores evidence that contradicts it; this is why the entire pool of evidence must be reassessed after the official story is dismantled, by taking into account the previously ignored anomalies and contradictory evidence. For a while, this gives the impression that the alternative theories lack structure; however they gain it as more evidence comes up to reinforce them.
During the time that the alternative theories are being built up, the void is filled both by solid and by disprovable evidence. It may take a while before the weak evidence is rejected and the strong evidence put together into a solid chain.
Myth #48: Conspiracy theorists over-interpret evidence
Evidence supporting conspiracy theories often lie in plain view and require little interpretation. In fact, detractors of conspiracy theorists who are confronted with such evidence often try to explain it away with an alternative explanation which requires more interpretation than the one they seek to dismiss (see Myth #2).
This accusation is commonly leveled at conspiracy theorists when they attempt to interpret official documents. Unfortunately, such documents are often deliberately written vaguely, both to hide information from the public and to give a cover of plausible deniability, making accusations difficult both to prove and for people to believe, however not impossible as is often claimed (see Myth #29).
The following have contributed in some way to the completion of this document: ntltrmllgnc, Dazed42 and Edwardo-noitv. The following have reviewed this document prior to its completion: mu-tiger, Dr. Duke, Luxpropane and Orethrius.
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