Conspiracy theories surround almost any major event or tragedy. How do you know whether to accept a conspiracy theory or not?
After the assassination of President Kennedy, the Warren Commission convened to examine evidence and testimony about the murder of the President. The purpose of the commission was to dispel controversy and avert speculation of a controversy.
It spent almost a year doing its work before issuing an 888 page report concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin and that he acted alone. The work was thorough, detailed and comprehensive. The conclusions were reached based on careful examination of all the available evidence.
The conspiracy theories that the Commission was formed to dispel now enjoy wider support than tits official findings. Almost 60% of those asked in a large recent survey do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, but that same 60% favor a number of alternate explanations.
Conspiracy theories surround many significant historical events: Did Franklin Roosevelt know about the Pearl Harbor attack I time to prevent it? Did Adolf Hitler really die in the bunker? Did Man really land on the moon? Was Jesse James really killed? The list goes on and on.
How can we really judge the merits of a conspiracy theory?
Here are some tests I have come up. Most apply to any conspiracy theory; some only to certain types. Many conspiracy theories fail when exposed to only one of these tests, some require several.
- Does the theory explain everything about the event?
Most official explanations leave many unanswered questions and offer much conflicting information. That is precisely what makes them believable and accurate. Multiple witnesses to the same event report seeing different things. Forensic evidence is not nearly as accurate as TV shows imply that it is. Asking witnesses the same questions twice yield inconsistent, sometimes conflicting, answers. All of these are the things that happen in real life.
Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, are developed after that fact, after the official record is delivered. The hindsight allows these theorists to account for the missing evidence, the “unreliable witness’”, the inaccurate forensics data and human error.
When the conspiracy theory is too pat, when it works too perfectly, when it addresses every objection, it is probably wrong.
2. How many people would have had to be involved in the conspiracy?
People do not keep quiet about their involvement in major events. The more people a conspiracy would have had to involve, the less likely everyone will keep a tight lip. If none of those people actually involved in or part of an event has come forward to challenge the official explanation, it must be correct. “Three people can keep a secret,” various sources have said, “but only if two of them are dead.”
Interestingly, it is rare to hear someone who was part of the alleged conspiracy come forward to claim their alternate version. This is true primarily because the conspiracy simply did not occur.
3. How many different conspiracy theories surround the event?
If there is more than one, be reasonable: they can’t all be true. The nearly 60% who doubt the Warren Commission explanation of the Kennedy assassination do not agree on a single alternative.
The only thing they have in common is that they discount the official explanation, but they discount each other, too. There is only one Mona Lisa; everything else is fake. There is only one truth; everything else is theory.
4. Did the conspiracy theorist have actual, first hand access to the original evidence, or is he relying on reports about the evidence?
Many theories rely on reports, summaries and conclusions reached by others; the theorists did not see the original data and evidence themselves, nor were they present for or engaged in the actual event.
There is a world of difference between a news report about the Super Bowl and actually attending it. For those who did attend it, each and every “eye witness account” will differ from each and every other one. The inconsistency of the eye witnesses to the Super Bowl does not mean they were not there or that they are lying, but conspiracy theorists generally pounce upon any eye witness variations as being proof of the witnesses’ unreliability.
5. Which evidence is dependable and which is not?
Much of the inaccurate or contradictory evidence used by theorists had been evaluated by actual investigators and deemed untrustworthy. The investigators had the evidence first hand. They are probably right.
There are also many conspiracy theories based on no evidence at all or by unsubstantiated claims of supposed experts who were not part of the actual event.
The conspiracy theories about man not walking on the moon or those claiming that airline con-trails spread toxins over the populations below are example of these entirely fanciful, non-evidence based theories.
Think of the number of people needed to stage the “fake moon landing” in some (unnamed) desert. The actual astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins (3), people to plant the “fake” lunar lander (hundreds), people to plan the entire “fake event” (also hundreds), and hundreds of others. Has any come forward? Is it even conceivable that so many people could keep that secret? Really?
And remember this, there was not just one moon landing but six. Could all six have been elaborate hoaxes involving casts of thousands? And none of those people talked about it?
I Know What I Know…
In spite of these tests of the conspiracy theories, gullible people will continue to accept the theories while rejecting more official explanations. Such people live by the old axiom, “I know what I know. Don’t confuse me with facts.”