Then you too will believe that President Kennedy was killed by a cabal of CIA agents, right-wing Cubans (including Ted Cruz’s father!), and oil billionaires. You will “know” that the Apollo moon landings were faked and that 9/11 was an inside job.
The Logical Perspective
However, if you want to approach conspiracy theories from a scientific, logical perspective, then here are some simple rules you can follow. However, you may be in for a disappointment, since the vast majority of conspiracy theories are bunk.
Indeed, Dr. David Grimes at Oxford University proved (1) that most conspiracies are hokum, through math.
Using Critical Thinking
The first thing you have to do is to employ critical thinking when approaching conspiracy theories.
The Critical Thinking Community page (2) defines this as:
“…the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”
In short, evaluate everything based on knowledge and evidence, not on feelings.
Next, it is a good idea to garner as much knowledge as you can about history, science, engineering, politics, and a number of other subjects. That which you cannot learn you can get by researching on the Internet. However, you have to be careful. Popular Science, Scientific America, university sites, and similar sources are credible. Something that calls itself, “Unmasking the Secret Cabal that Rules the World” is likely not very credible.
Then you should apply reasoning for theories.
- Why would a vast conspiracy want to kill JFK instead of undertaking to defeat him in the next election?
- What would be the mechanics of deliberately crashing several planes into buildings by remote control?
- Was video technology sufficiently advanced to fake the moon landings in 1969?
Ask questions, which is something the conspiracy theorists urge you to do. Do not take pat answers.
Find alternative explanations to the conspiracy meme. Go to a variety of sources to examine the validity of the conspiracy in question.
Think Outside the Box
Another good technique in examining conspiracy theories is to try some outside-the-box thinking.
For example, it has been a matter of faith among the UFO community that aliens have been visiting our planet for decades, buzzing about in spacecraft in full view of almost everyone, occasionally abducting people from their homes or the side of the road.
However, the United States Air Force has stealth aircraft and drones that are not detectable. If an advanced alien civilization wanted to study the earthlings, would it not use platforms that could not be detected by the primitives? If the subjects being observed know that they are being observed, then the observation becomes invalid.
Does all of this mean that there are no valid conspiracies? Certainly not. Watergate was a conspiracy. The plan to use the IRS to harass President Obama’s political opponents was a conspiracy. Iran-Contra was a conspiracy.
However, all of those real conspiracies were unmasked by journalists, using good, old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting techniques. As Dr. Grimes proved, real conspiracies do not remain secret for very long. Someone always talks.
“All the President’s Men,” by Woodward and Bernstein, is a great account, albeit somewhat self serving, about how a conspiracy gets unmasked. “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown gets a lot of facts wrong, but it does depict Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbolist, using a knowledge of history and science and reasoning to get at the root of a conspiracy, The movie starring Tom Hanks is pretty good, too.
“Mythbusters” is a show on the Science Channel that demonstrates how urban myths are examined by experimentation.
Do You Want to Believe?
People believe in conspiracy theories because, to use the phrase from “The X-Files” (another interesting depiction of the use of investigative techniques), because they want to believe.
Do not fall into that trap. Rather, you should want to know the truth. As the good book says, the truth will set you free.