How Do I Find Out If a Specific Conspiracy Theory Is or Isn’t True?

Pic: Steve Lee (CC)

Pic: Steve Lee (CC)

Rob Ager writes:

At this technologically sophisticated point in human history the scope for ordinary citizens to monitor power institutions and spread awareness of corruption is greater than it has even been. The average citizen has access to printers, email, DVD players and a multitude of other information distribution outlets. This has become a major problem for power institutions. The big brother surveillance society swings both ways and so now governments are having a major problem with what they consistently call “conspiracy theories”.

A few major difficulties have emerged with this new public monitoring of power institutions.

  1. Poor research has been widely disseminated on many conspiracy subject due to the limited investigative skills or personal bias of those doing the research.
  2. Conspiracy theory dissemination has developed a commercial edge; with some films and books being sold for higher prices than would be expected in high st retail stores.
  3. In some instances individuals may vindictively fabricate conspiracy theories to bring disrepute to some other individual, organisation or government.
  4. In some instances conspiracy theory dissemination may be part of a cognitive infiltration tactic designed to discredit more convincing versions of the same conspiracy, or to discredit conspiracy theories in general.
  5. In some instances conspiracy theories may be covertly disseminated by one government or power institution to demonize another.

These complex interactions of conflicting agendas and informational one-up man ship can quickly turn a simple conspiracy theory into a vast puzzle. However, much of the information can quickly be disregarded if we’re applying reliable perceptual filters.

The following is a list of information filtering and organising principles that you can use to assess any given conspiracy theory. I’m not going to make reference to specific conspiracy theory examples because to do so would run the risk of my indirectly swaying you into believing or disbelieving them.

  1. Reserve judgement at the information gathering stage. If you start out by assuming a conspiracy theory to be true or false while your information is still minimal then your pursuit of informational will be biased. You’ll be likely to disregard facts that don’t match up with the judgement you’ve made. Now matter how absurd or convincing the theory, begin with an attitude that it could turn out to be anywhere from wholly true to completely false.
  2. Gather as much information as you can. This is essential and, if done thoroughly, will make the process of reaching a conclusion quick and easy. If your conclusion is weak and uncertain then you probably didn’t gather enough information. Generally, information gathering will be the most time consuming stage of your research.
  3. Double check each detail. The slightest misrepresentation of a matter through choice of words or a slight variation in dates can completely alter the validity of a conspiracy theory.
  4. Use multiple, preferably unrelated, sources. Sometimes a particular detail may seem conclusive based upon a single source, but exploring other versions of that same detail from different sources will unveil important variations. If you find consistency of detail from unrelated sources then a particular factoid can be deemed near enough conclusive.
  5. Delete repetitions of the same information. Regurgitations of information aren’t just limited to verbal hearsay, internet chat rooms and blogs. They’re very frequent in the mainstream media too in that reporters often save themselves a lot of leg work by copying and rewording stories already being covered by rival media sources. One of the dangers of second and third hand information is that those repeating the information will often alter its presentation – in other word they distort it (though sometimes they can do this for the better by cross-referencing the information with contexts that the original source neglected). Where possible try to get to the original information source. See my article / video Choose Your News for more on media repetition.
  6. Pay equal attention to purveyors and debunkers, regardless of their character traits. Wise, intelligent and well-adjusted people sometimes get their facts wrong and at the same time people who appear to be disorganised and impulsive sometimes get their facts straight. If a schizophrenic witnesses a real car crash and tells you about it the fact that he is schizophrenic doesn’t discredit his “a car crash occurred” theory. All claims must be considered and investigated on the possibility that they may be true or false.
  7. There’s no such thing as a reliable source. The term “reliable source” is generally used to refer to academic researchers / institutions, governmental organisations, and “reputable” media sources. We generally use the “reliable source” filter to avoid double checking claims because it basically saves us time and effort. But when investigating a crime or conspiracy theory this luxury of assuming something is true based upon our personal trust of a source is unwise. There are many historical examples in which reputable researchers and even entire academic and media empires have gotten their facts severely wrong. And in those contexts the “reliable source” filter can prevent mass-knowledge correction for many years…

Read more here.

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  • Echar Lailoken

    The first thing I consider is how the information serves me. Does “knowing” improve me, my psyche, or my chances of survival. What can I do with this information. Most often the answer is less then nothing, beyond curiosity.

    • gustave courbet

      I appreciate the pragmatic element in your approach, but would add that, despite the appearance of limited personal significance, history and current political intrigues often have real, if attenuated importance for the individual. Namely, power systems and their (sometimes covert) activities directly effect our daily lives. As Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you. ”

      • Echar Lailoken

        I take interest in politics. However, I feel there is little I can do about any of it. Too bad Bob Lee Swagger is a fictional character, yet even then I bet the greedy allure of power lust perpetuates a soul sickened hydra. in other words, it is what it is.

        • kowalityjesus

          you and I have come to this conclusion convergently. There are so many nut-job/disinfo agents on certain conspiracy topics that it is extremely hard to discern any appreciable perspective on the truth/reality behind said topic. I will use as an example aliens as a topic and bibliotecapleyades as a source. The gamut of the subject ranges so far and wide into various contexts while being so patently bizarre, and it is so completely inapplicable to anything in life (that is not making yourself appear completely unaccountable and crazy) that I fairly quickly drew the opinion that it is a toxic subject to try to wrap your head around. It must be fun for someone to write disinfo about it though, lol.

          • Echar Lailoken

            I have found that there are some good sources which offer beneficial information. For me, it’s typically of an abstract and/or peripheral nature. Even then, I feel it’s a risk to commit the information to a solid perspective.

        • gustave courbet

          Ha, well said. I just re-watched that movie the other day.

  • Mr B

    ‘… so now governments are having a major problem with what they consistently call “conspiracy theories”.’

    Really? In my grim experience, irrespective of evidence strength, no one listens.
    It’s not like the end of Poirot, where everyone gathered is generally acute, patient and fascinated by the scandalous exposé.

    • Juan

      Exactly, most people can’t be arsed.

    • kowalityjesus

      that’s the “please fucking kill me” phase of the conspiracy

  • InfvoCuernos

    I ask myself:” does it involve aliens or the Mayans?” if the answer is yes, then I believe it.

    • error403

      It can always be verified by that guy with the hair.

    • Andrew

      I just ask myself if the Mainstream believes or disbelieves it. If most people believe it, it’s false, and if they don’t believe it, it’s true.

  • BuzzCoastin

    anything it takes to keep you tuned into the carrier wave
    that’s Conspiracy Theories R Us™

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  • kowalityjesus

    excellent link

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    you pull a card from the deck of “ways to find out a conspiracy theory is true”
    or
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    and
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    …duh, captain hype-out-&-noose
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