10 Step Guide to Detecting Conspiracy Theories & Bullshit

10 Step Guide to Detecting Conspiracy Theories & Bullshit

This article suggests tools for debunking conspiracy theories. It argues such ideas are a dangerous blockage on the path to a clearer understanding of the political, social and economic problems we face. Such an understanding is the first step on the road to liberation.

Pink Panther

When the Internet made its appearance there was a lot of talk about the information super highway in which people would be able to click on a few buttons and get whatever information they were looking for.

Cue forward to 2019 and the information super highway is looking a lot more like the information rubbish tip. While its undeniable there is some good solid stuff out there, it’s also true that not only is some of the information irrelevant to what we’re looking for (as anyone who has used Google Search can attest to) but it is also unreliable. One of the reasons is the number of charlatans such as conspiracy theorists who have made the Internet their home.

Despite what you might think, lots of different kinds of people can be sucked in by conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, it is becoming all too common for people who should know better, to fall victim to this nonsense. This matters because we can only fight back against the very real material and political problems of the world as it is, by understanding reality. Once we know what is really going on, we will have a sound basis for organising resistance to it. So how can we detect if what we are reading is nonsense or a conspiracy theory? The ten step guide below is what I use to sift fact from fiction or half-truths. When that fails I turn to sites like www.skeptoid.com and www.snopes.com which are both non-partisan debunkers of bullshit, no matter what side of the political spectrum it comes from.

I. Use of Vague Statistics.

Any claim that uses a statistic like “One in three people are…” should always be treated with great scepticism because they’re meaningless. Without knowing anything like the number of people who were studied or surveyed, the terms of reference for the study or research undertaken or the people or organisation who conducted the research, we cannot determine if the statistic is real or made up. More often than not studies which use such vague references are made up or conducted by highly partisan groups trying to convince people that “research” backs what they say.

II. Awe with Percentages.

How many times have you read a poll that claims that “40% of Americans support Trump” or something similar? Most polls conducted by a polling company tend to interview between 1000 and 1500 people over a given time period and are chosen from electoral or other voting rolls. It’s not hard to realise that it is impossible to determine what millions of people think about anything on the basis of what 1000 or so people say. You also have to consider that such a sample excludes people who aren’t on electoral rolls for various reasons. Despite the claims that such polls are scientific no one has been able to explain just what part of the polling process actually involves science. Percentages without context are another problem. Informing us that the average house price has increased by 35% in a particular area doesn’t tell us anything. Telling us that the average house price in that area was $250,000 back in 2012 then telling us that house prices in that area have increased by 35% gives us information that is useful.

III. Emotive Manipulation.

In some news networks there is a lot of pressure to try and get as many people to support a certain viewpoint or to galvanise support for a particular cause. One way this is done is to get a hysterical parent wailing about how her child is a victim of a certain social or other evil in order to rally support for that cause. The problem with such news stories is little, or no, attempt is made to find out if anything the said parent has claimed is true, false or an combination of both. Also, no attempt is made to put things in context.

The problem with anecdotal, human interest and other stories of this nature is they exaggerate the extent of a social evil in the minds of the public.
An example of this is when a child is snatched off the streets and murdered. Parents stop letting their children walk to school out of fear the same thing will happen to their own children. This is despite the fact that crime statistics from the United States and other countries repeatedly show that the chances of anyone, let alone a child, being snatched from the streets and killed by strangers is very rare. For example, according to the New York Times (August 17th, 2016), the FBI reported that only 1,381 of the 11,961 homicides reported within the United States in 2014 involved people who were unknown to the victims.
Emotionally manipulative news items can also have serious consequences. U.S President Donald Trump’s crack down on undocumented immigrants and his so-called “Muslim ban” was largely the result of emotive hysteria whipped up by Fox News about crimes committed by undocumented migrants and terrorist acts by Islamic State in Europe.

IV. The Defying of Reality.

Let’s be blunt. Most conspiracy theories and incorrect news stories are exposed as such because they fail to pass the most basic test of “Is it practical or realistic that such a thing could happen?” The 9/11 Truthers often come unstuck on this one. They would have us believe that multiple American government agencies conspired to murder thousands of their fellow Americans so that George W Bush could justify invading Afghanistan for its oil and gas reserves.

There’s at least four major problems with that:

1. A plot to kill thousands of people would’ve required a degree of co-operation between various government agencies that did not exist at the time – and still doesn’t. U.S government agencies are notorious for jealously guarding their jurisdictions and tend to avoid co-operating unless circumstances or the law requires them to do so. It was the lack of co-operation between government and intelligence agencies that enabled the 9/11 hijackers to enter the United States despite the terrorists involved in the hijackings being on known or suspected terrorist watch lists. It was to ensure better information gathering and sharing between these agencies that the Department of Homeland Security was created. Yet, despite this, co-operation between various government agencies is the exception rather than the rule.

2. American civil servants are required to take an oath to uphold the U.S Constitution. As the U.S Constitution forbids extra-judicial killings (of which plotting to kill thousands of Americans would be an obvious breach of said Constitution) public servants would’ve had the legal requirement to come out and denounce such behaviour.

3. Afghanistan was not invaded for either gas or oil because Afghanistan has neither. It was invaded because George W Bush believed that the Taliban were harbouring the man they believed was responsible for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.

4. Genuine whistle-blowers go to credible news organisations like CNN, ABC or NBC or newspapers like the L.A Times, Washington Post or New York Times. They don’t go to websites like InfoWars or tabloids like National Inquirer.

V. Ignorance of basic facts.

Conspiracy theorists often lack a basic understanding of the relevant fields they are lecturing about. None of the 9/11 Truthers or so-called “Scholars for 9/11 Truth” have relevant qualifications or expertise in the fields that would be most relevant in any investigation into the 9/11 terrorist attacks such as building demolition, structural engineering, air crash investigation, architecture, disaster management, building and construction or even chemistry. Instead, the 9/11 Truthers are made up of people like celebrities, religious scholars, former intelligence officers, ex-military officers and sports stars. In other words, people who simply don’t have the expertise or knowledge to answer if a building can collapse pancake-style from causes other than an explosion or if molten steel would contain thermite independent of any explosives. That’s why air crash investigators, arson investigators and police detectives don’t just look for one or two things when they suspect damage might’ve been caused by a bomb. They look for many things because sometimes explosive residue can be found at the site of a disaster that has been caused by something else.

For example, explosive residue was found on Partnair Flight 394 which crashed off the coast of Denmark on September 8th, 1989. Many people, particularly in Norway, initially believed it was a bomb because of reports of a loud explosion and because the Prime Minister of Norway had recently flown on the same aircraft. The reason why explosive residue was found on the wreckage was the result of contamination resulting from military ordinance littering the sea floor from various naval battles fought in the area. The cause of the crash was the failure of counterfeit aircraft parts used during aircraft maintenance.

VI. Confusing Authority with Expertise.

Yes, there is a difference between authority and expertise. Authority is gained from one’s position or title within a group or organisation. Expertise is gained from learning, working in and mastering a particular skill, trade or area of knowledge.

Among conspiracy theorists there is a tendency to ignore the experts in their chosen fields in favour of authority figures. The more common authority figures they listen to are celebrities, ex-wrestlers like the former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, former military officers and former police officers.
Few conspiracy theorists see the absurdity of debunking authority figures who have the expertise to back up what they are saying by claiming they’re all in cahoots with the evil, omnipresent government or Big Something-or-other but not the authority figures who go along with their conspiracies.

VII. Playing on prejudices.

They play on people’s prejudices to advance their nonsense. Despite what the moral relativists may claim it’s not necessary to be a white heterosexual male to indulge in stereotyping. Stereotyping is attributing to all persons within a certain group attributes – both negative and positive – that may or may not be held by many people within that group. Some of the more obvious stereotypes are the hard working and well educated Asians who are all work and no fun, the Muslim terrorists who want to impose Sharia law upon us, the lazy drug addicted welfare queen… I’m sure there’s many other stereotypes that one can think of. Stereotyping often comes about as the direct result of selective reporting about certain groups within both traditional and social media that is picked up and used to vilify anyone who belong to those groups. All arguments presented by anyone from those groups will be greeted with comments like “Oh you would say that because you are one of them!” and people who defend those being stereotyped will be attacked with comments like “That’s what we expect from an apologist for these people.”

VIII. Treating the masses with contempt.

For people who claim to speak for the ordinary person in the street or who desire to “educate” them the conspiracy theorists regularly abuse and vilify the masses by labelling them “sheeple”, “muppets”, “ignorant” or “liars”. Rarely, if ever, do they assume the masses might have enough intelligence to work out the facts for themselves. A search on YouTube for anything to do with debunking anti-vaccination campaigns, 9/11 Truthers or Pizzagate will provide ample examples of this contempt in the Comments section.

IX. The Obsession with the word “Big”.

An obsession is prefixing any sector of society they dislike with the word “Big” as in “Big Pharma”, “Big Agriculture”, “Big Business” and “Big Government”. Everything they say and write ends up being about how something prefixed with the word “Big” is behind everything they dislike. Accusing people of belonging to Big Something-or-other is a sure-fire way to try and discredit anyone who challenges the claims made by a conspiracy theorist.

That leads us to the single biggest indicator that something is wrong or a conspiracy theory.

X. Using supposedly “Anti-Establishment” sources because they provide “alternative sources of news”.

A British conservative may be happier reading The Times while a liberal counterpart may be more contented with reading The Guardian but both newspapers contain the same basic content. What separates the two newspapers is their bias. The former is biased towards its conservative readership and the latter is biased towards its liberal readership. Bias doesn’t make a news story fake or the news organisation a fake news peddler or a bunch of conspiracy theorists.
While both The Guardian and The Times are Establishment publications they employ editors, sub-editors, fact checkers, reporters and journalists who actually go out and find out if what is being told to them is true. They usually come back with different interpretations of what has happened but they don’t differ when it comes to the basic facts. They also distinguish between opinion pieces where a writer peddles their viewpoint and the news. Most supposedly “Anti-Establishment” or alternative news sources have none of these things. They don’t distinguish between facts and opinions. They don’t bother to find out if what is being written or broadcast is true or false. They only care that what they produce fits in with their world view. That usually means they cite from sources of like-minded groups and individuals.

‘All’ that most multi-billion dollar media companies want us to do (which is bad enough in itself!) is read stories while they harass us with endless advertising and marketing campaigns that keep the money rolling in for these companies. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is the multi-billion media empire it is because it encompasses newspapers, magazines and websites that have at least some diversity of opinions. That correspondingly brings in at least some diversity of readers and viewers whom Murdoch’s advertisers can harrange with advertising. They have a vested interest to tell us the truth most of the time, even if it’s usually biased in favour of Capitalists and Capitalism.

Don’t be fooled by the news charlatans and conspiracy theorists. They aren’t providing you with ‘alternative facts’ from alternative news sources. They make up what they say and they’re playing you for suckers as they laugh all the way to the bank with the money they got from hacking your personal data when you clicked on their site. You might find it temporarily comforting to believe you’ve been handed the mysteries of the universe via a website run by somebody living in his Mum’s garage. Spending hours listening to podcasts about chem-trails, our alien lizard overlords, the flat earth or the moon-landing ‘hoax’ etc. will perhaps provide psychological distraction from wondering how you’re going to pay this week’s rent. What it won’t do is give you the tools necessary to overcome and struggle effectively against the hard, cold and sometimes ‘boring’ realities of the world we really live in.

Comments

jaycee
Jan 22 2019 11:47


Quote:
1. A plot to kill thousands of people would’ve required a degree of co-operation between various government agencies that did not exist at the time – and still doesn’t. U.S government agencies are notorious for jealously guarding their jurisdictions and tend to avoid co-operating unless circumstances or the law requires them to do so. It was the lack of co-operation between government and intelligence agencies that enabled the 9/11 hijackers to enter the United States despite the terrorists involved in the hijackings being on known or suspected terrorist watch lists. It was to ensure better information gathering and sharing between these agencies that the Department of Homeland Security was created. Yet, despite this, co-operation between various government agencies is the exception rather than the rule.[/b]

]2. American civil servants are required to take an oath to uphold the U.S Constitution. As the U.S Constitution forbids extra-judicial killings (of which plotting to kill thousands of Americans would be an obvious breach of said Constitution) public servants would’ve had the legal requirement to come out and denounce such behaviour.

3. Afghanistan was not invaded for either gas or oil because Afghanistan has neither. It was invaded because George W Bush believed that the Taliban were harbouring the man they believed was responsible for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.

4. Genuine whistle-blowers go to credible news organisations like CNN, ABC or NBC or newspapers like the L.A Times, Washington Post or New York Times. They don’t go to websites like InfoWars or tabloids like National Inquirer.[/b][/b]


This is unbelievable bullshit.[/b]

How are you an anarchist/revolutionary of any type and have that degree of naivety about how power works and the reasons behind the actions of the bourgeoisie. Number 3 is staggeringly stupid.

I'm sorry to be a dick but this just blew me away. While there are aspects of 9/11 'trutherism' that is conspiracy theory nonsense (the idea of the pentagon not being hit by a plane for example) there is more nonsense in the official story (i.e. the third tower collapsed due to debris and the passports of those responsible were found the next day in the rubble).

You seriously think America invaded Afghanistan with no thought for imperialist position?

161
Jan 25 2019 17:01

To be fair all of the 'credible news organisations' listed lost any credibility they had left in the years following 9/11 when they uncritically went along with the state's 'WMD' lie

LAMA
Feb 1 2019 09:03

Apologies for the delay in getting back to you, it took me a while to receive Pink Panther's response to your comments. This is what he sent:

I was wrong in my assertion that there is no oil or gas reserves in Afghanistan. In 1956 the Tariq-Afghan oil and gas field were discovered but at the time of the U.S invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001 no exploratory drilling nor refining of this field had begun. It wasn't until 2013 (according to ABC News item dated May 13, 2013) that a Chinese firm had been awarded a contract to refine oil in the area. In 2001 invading Afghanistan for oil would've been pointless. The reason cited by the U.S government for invading Afghanistan was because the Taliban regime refused to hand over Osama bin Laden unless the Americans could prove he was involved. Instead of providing the proof the Americans invaded. They are imperialists and power advancement is inherent in their modus operandi but the (initial at least) motivation in this case was more about dealing with the guy they were after and asserting their power militarily and strategically than a grab for resources.

As for the claims about World Trade Centre 7? Most of the damage sustained by the building was on the other side of the building to that of most the cameras that caught the collapse. The building had suffered structural damage (like most of the buildings in the area) from the shock waves triggered by the collapse of the Twin Towers. The shock waves were picked up by seismographs nearby. It also suffered fire damage because there weren't enough fire fighters left after the collapse of the Twin Towers to put out the fires. A controlled explosion can be ruled out for the simple fact no camera in the area picked up any noise consistent with an explosion.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 proved just how inept the U S government was at co-ordinating, let alone, executing something that involved inter-governmental agency co-operation. Their screw-ups with the Haiti earthquake relief efforts and the devastation caused to Puerto Rico by Hurricanes Irma and Maria prove that the U.S government is not the omnipotent force both the government itself and the conspiracy minded want to think it is.

Finally I am an Anarchist because I believe the state is unnecessary for the functioning of a society. Yes the government and media lie sometimes, but they also have to get the truth out to their supporters in society at other times, to maintain things. Its a messy reality, not a black and white one. Conspiracy theorists want to take a complex reality and simplify it. This results in making them feel better but has the dangerous consequence of mis-representing the world as it is and is therefore a dead end for those of us who want to change it.

jaycee
Feb 1 2019 17:06

I don't want to go into a whole 9/11 conspiracy thing here but with regards to tower 7 this seems pretty definitive to me. Can't seem to link the video but if you watch this to the end he says in no uncertain terms that he ordered it to be pulled.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p34XrI2Fm6I

I don't think its that far fetched to say that the reason the USA didn't provide evidence that Osama Bin Laden was behind 9/11 was that they didn't actually have much if any evidence.

Either way my main point is that there is danger on both sides; assuming the bourgeoisie is completely stupid and disorganized and assuming they are all powerful lizard god-men. They do conspire and they do have very little moral scruple about killing thousans/millions of people if they perceive it to be in their interest.

Also, the response to Katrina was likely partly down to incompetence but the role racism and contempt for poor lives/having designs on new uses of the land played should also not be underestimated.

You have to know how your enemy functions; they conspire everyday. They are not united and are not all powerful; but they would like to be.

darren p
Feb 1 2019 18:13
jaycee wrote:
I don't want to go into a whole 9/11 conspiracy thing here but with regards to tower 7 this seems pretty definitive to me. Can't seem to link the video but if you watch this to the end he says in no uncertain terms that he ordered it to be pulled.

Do you have any idea of the amount of time and work it takes to place charges in a building prior to a controlled demolition? But whatever, this has been discussed ad-infinitum by now...

jaycee
Feb 2 2019 14:31
Quote:

Do you have any idea of the amount of time and work it takes to place charges in a building prior to a controlled demolition?

Surely that's precisely the point. He (Larry silverstein- the owner of the tower) is on camera saying he gave an order to 'pull it' so the question is how did they go about doing this so quickly and why have they denied doing it in official documents?

Again I'm not too concerned about these questions because even if the US ruling class (or sections of it-as would almost always be the case) had nothing to do with allowing/planning/aiding etc the 9/11 attacks- the point is that they used it in a way they had already wanted to use something similar and used it to put forward a plan they already had i.e. the 'War on Terror'/war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria etc.

This is the point i'm making; the bourgeoisie do plan and do conspire; this article makes it seem as if the very idea that they plan anything is automatically 'conspiracy theorism' and paranoia.

This is wrong and is just as harmful to the proletariat in terms of understanding our enemy as real conspiracy theorist ideology is.

darren p
Feb 2 2019 17:42
jaycee wrote:
Surely that's precisely the point. He (Larry silverstein- the owner of the tower) is on camera saying he gave an order to 'pull it' so the question is how did they go about doing this so quickly and why have they denied doing it in official documents?

So you think 47 storey building can be set up for a controlled demolition in an afternoon? Do you think many demolition workers are willing to work in burning buildings? Jeez!

jaycee
Feb 3 2019 13:06

Like I said I don't know how they did it. Maybe it was already set up, Maybe the security services have ways of doing things we don't know about. Who knows. The point is there is video of him saying 'I gave the order to pull it'.

Like I said it's not the main point I'm making. Just illustrating one of the strange details about the events of 9/11 and pointing out that the article above has a staggering amount of naievity about how the ruling class functions. It might be better to discuss that. No?

radicalgraffiti
Feb 3 2019 14:51
jaycee wrote:
Like I said I don't know how they did it. Maybe it was already set up, Maybe the security services have ways of doing things we don't know about. Who knows. The point is there is video of him saying 'I gave the order to pull it'.

Like I said it's not the main point I'm making. Just illustrating one of the strange details about the events of 9/11 and pointing out that the article above has a staggering amount of naievity about how the ruling class functions. It might be better to discuss that. No?

mostly likely they where telling the firefighters to pull out and stop trying to suppress the fire

its completely pointless to waste time speculation about things that require super human ability and coordination

instead of nitpicking over some old videos how about looking at some of the stuff the ruling class is up to in the real world

jaycee
Feb 3 2019 15:40

Thats exactly the point I'm making. Everyone seems to want to turn this into a conversation about the third tower. I just used it as an example of one of the many strange things about the 9/11 official account. The po8nt is that the IDEA that they would plan to help/make use of an attack on their 'own citizens' isn't that far fetched and to counter the tone of this article which suggests that the bourgeoisie don't plan anything and are just bumbling idiots.

This is a stupid attitude to have. That doesn't mean conspiracy theorist stuff isn't also a problem but going too far the other way is a problem too. That is literally all I've been saying yet every response has been about tower 7.