A few words about Conspiracy Theories

Balloons that look like aliens

About of third of Americans believe that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush Administration. source: Scientific American. Now, unlike the moon landings or the flat-Earth that is a dangerous conspiracy theory. And if you believe it, you better have a damn good reason to. And from what I have read and explored about it, there are no good reasons to believe it. Not when you really and honestly look for real explanations. Like when the 2017 Grenfell tower fire which left the building still standing - that gave new life to the 'Truthers' which were quick to try and draw parallels between 9/11 and that, while ignoring even the most basic facts - unlike the building 7, this was a concrete structure!

For anyone who ever read my blog before, won’t be surprised by my standing about this and other conspiracy theories: “Where is the evidence?”. You see, it’s not enough to point and say “this feels wrong, because this and that, you have to show evidence that supports your point of view”.

And, no - asking questions is not evidence. Asking the question is the first step in wanting to know. But if you do not look for answers as well, you did not achieve much.

Buzz Aldrin

Apollo 11 crewmember Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag. Image courtesy of NASA History Office and the NASA JSC Media Services Center

Another legitimate question which I would say is DEVASTATING to almost any conspiracy theory is: How such a large group of people can keep a secret? Take so-called moon-landings conspiracies. “At its peak, the Apollo program employed 400,000 people and required the support of over 20,000 industrial firms and universities”. (source: Wikipedia). Nobody of all those people ever produced any convincing evidence that Moon Landings were faked.

Yet, a huge number of people, not only in the US believe that the moon landings were faked. Based on what? No, seriously, based on what? On the ramblings of people who do know how to pose a question but are too lazy to look for an answer. They ramble on how there are no stars, without bothering to look at the explanations for themselves. And yes, there are a lot of them. Almost every conspiracy theorist I talked to, both online and in-person has no interest to look for an answer. They are perfectly satisfied by mindlessly repeating whatever the latest question they read online from others that are like them.

True, some might take a look for themselves but they are usually so disconnected from reality that they will ignore their own rational minds and look for an alternative, nearly impossible explanations just to keep the conspiracies alive. When told that stars are too faint to see because the camera wasn't set up for recording stars but the foreground they lose their sh*t. But I guess that insulting and asking stupid questions is easier than learning about ISO, aperture, shutter speed etc, right?

An interesting video I have found and mentioned several times is this one where Film Director explains that it would be impossible to fake Moon Landings using the technology available at the time. Basically, another point in argument how it would be easier to go to the Moon than to fake it.

 

Just to make a point about conspiracy theories in general by sticking to the “Moon landing Hoax”, even if a third party confirms something, like for example when Japan Space Agency obtained photos proving Moon Landings (wiki), conspiracy theorists immediately say that they are paid by the US government. Where does it stop, you guys?

You see, Conspiracy theories rarely, very, very rarely provide any evidence of their own. Their favourite tactic is trying to poke holes in the existing evidence, using half-measures and half brain. I guess if they’re loud enough there are people who will believe them instead of taking a look at the evidence. Just like the flat-Earth actually.

But “Why?” is the question we’re examining today. How can one stand and defend her/his position even when there’s an astonishing amount of evidence to the contrary? Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, looking for patterns and feeling without control are some of the reasons. Here’s another and it’s called “Confirmation Bias".

Confirmation Bias as defined by Wikipedia is “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.”.
- Wikipedia contributors. "Confirmation bias." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 Aug. 2019. Web. 12 Aug. 2019.

What this means is: people have a belief, then we go looking for evidence that supports this belief. This also means if they find evidence that goes against our belief they’re likely to ignore it.

An example of asking a question, understanding the problem and looking for an answer. But if you stop asking the question, you achieved almost nothing, especially if you're all ready and set to not believe the answer.

Q: How does rocket fuel burn in space? A: Rocket fuel uses an oxidizer, like liquid oxygen

Source image: Public Domain, Link

Why? Why do people so easily fall victim to believing in conspiracies?

Some studies1 are saying that people who believe strongly in all sorts of conspiracy theories have one thing in common: They feel like they don’t have control over their lives.

Basically, it seems that most conspiracy theories appear in times of uncertainty. This is when our brains are in overdrive, trying to figure out what is happening and why is it happening. The human brain is wired to look for patterns3, as this behaviour helped our ancestors survive when they were roaming the African savannas. This means we are looking for patterns everywhere, in every situation. And sometimes brain will malfunction, connecting two things that are not really connected in reality.

As I read in this meta-analysis of TIME magazine, researchers were able to display a connection between whether a person feels like she is in control and belief in conspiracy theories.

Of course, this can easily lead to a slippery slope, because for example, one study2 has also shown that if you believe in one conspiracy theory, you’re more likely to believe in another.

I personally also believe that a lot of conspiracy theorists are motivated not only by fear but also by their own egos and desires to feel smarter than the average chump who hasn’t figured out what is going on. It's a seductive illusion, feeling that you're smarter than others who are 'sheep' and blindly believe.

This way of behaving can be dangerous, as people can come to see every piece of news as a “cover-up” for something. And you don’t have to be very imaginative or think too hard where this might lead you: “tin-foil hat” territory. If you're a believer in conspiracy theories you might instead try to ask yourself if you have any fears or insecurities currently about the state of the world. Or you might want to ask yourself if you might have a subconscious need to feel better and/or smarter than others? Or you might try some introspection next time when you're discussing your favourite conspiracy. Does it make you feel irrational, over-emotional? Those might be the signs you should take a deeper look at the facts and look for answers to your questions. You can do this.

  1. The Influence of Control on Belief in Conspiracy Theories: Conceptual and Applied Extensions - http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acp.3161/abstract
  2. Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States - http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1835348
  3. Psych Central - Patterns: The Need for Order

Further reading

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