Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Conspiracy Theories Are Illogical

Written by johnleemk on 12:55:38 pm May 23, 2007.

It's no secret that there are many believers in conspiracy theories out there. The sheer number of such theories is incredible, the most common including: aliens landed at Roswell, John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy, the moon landings were faked, and September 11 was orchestrated by the American government.

There are obvious reasons why we refuse to accept the official version of events. It's often difficult to believe that something so incredible could be explained by something so simple.

But the question of whether we should believe these conspiracy theories is one that, I feel, often has to be met with a firm "no". The main problem is usually one of evidence.

For example, the "evidence" that the moon landings were a hoax has been so plainly debunked that it is incredible that anyone still believes this claim.

A more common problem than a lack of evidence to support the theory is the issue of circumstantial evidence. Often, conspiracy theorists will not introduce much new proof, but rather attempt to offer an alternative explanation for the event based on existing evidence.

The problem with this approach should be obvious — conspiracy theorists have forgotten to shave with Occam's razor. The most simple explanation for a particular phenomenon consistent with the evidence is the one which should be accepted.

It is always possible to offer new hypotheses which are also consistent with the evidence. But why should we accept a more complex explanation when a simpler one is readily available? If the evidence used to support both explanations is the same, preference should be given to the simpler view, which relies on less variables.

There is one other reason that I am hugely skeptical of many conspiracy theories. It is a viewpoint which has been enunciated by one person who debunked the "Loose Change" video, which attempted to prove that September 11 was perpetrated by the American government.

Basically, there is nothing wrong with assuming one or even a few people to be malicious. However, there is a huge problem with assuming that everyone is malicious — that they would cover up a conspiracy.

To illustrate this point, let's say there was a conspiracy to blow up the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, as alleged by the Loose Change video. Some not-so-convincing evidence that the WTC collapse could not have been caused alone by an aeroplane flying into it is presented.

If the evidence is so damning, then why hasn't a single engineer in the world been trumpeting it to high heavens? Why aren't there any investigative journalists delving into the piles of damning proof?

The faulty assumption made here by conspiracy theorists is that all of these people were either bought off by the American government, or that they are all intentionally covering up one of the biggest scandals in history. How could thousands of engineers and journalists be silenced?

That isn't to say we should reject all conspiracy theories outright. A few like, the JFK conspiracy theory, actually have some evidence that can't be simply dismissed (although I am inclined to think that if it was a government operation, the conspiracy would be prey to the faulty assumption of bad faith on the part of many).

But there is good reason to be skeptical of conspiracy theories in general. Many of them are simply kneejerk reactions to what people feel can't be right, regardless of what the evidence actually is or what a little thinking would tell us.

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